To set or not to set – that is the question…

1 March 2018

And the answer is a pretty resounding NO! Setting is widespread in UK secondary schools and can be found in primary schools. It is even advocated by some widely used phonics programmes and yet there is little evidence of its efficacy and substantial evidence of its detrimental impact on those allocated to the low sets.

So, what does the evidence say in detail?
Well, let’s start with the EEF Toolkit – the headline finding is that setting or attainment groups results in a negative impact of -1 month across large samples of children. Of course, the devil is in the detail. If we look closer, what we find is that setting appears to only have a small positive effect on the very highest attaining children. The impact on the lower attaining children is the worst, with them falling behind by 1 to two months each year, in comparison with their peers. So, it could be assumed that contributes to increasing the attainment gap between pupils. If we also assume that the lowest attaining sets often include some of the most disadvantaged pupils in our schools, then we might be in the uncomfortable position of unwittingly contributing to under attainment before we even begin teaching.

Need more persuading?
The Best Practice in Grouping Students Research Study run by Prof Becky Francis at IoE_UCL has a wealth of interesting reading. She summarises the key evidence and provides some ideas for developing this further in this podcast with Jon Severs from TES.

And finally……

Prof Steve Higgins talks to Lee Elliott-Major from the Sutton Trust in this short Toolkit Talks.

Posted on 1 March 2018
Posted in: Blog

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