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Setting at A-level?

Discussion in 'Secondary' started by bennyjohn5, Jul 27, 2017.

  1. bennyjohn5

    bennyjohn5 New commenter

    Dear All,

    In fifteen years of teaching I have not used ability setting at A-level. I have primarily taught Physics. My fear is that the lower ability set would be a disaster.

    I would welcome feedback from anyone who has experienced setting at their school.

    Kind regards,
  2. DYNAMO67

    DYNAMO67 Lead commenter

    Do you have the numbers to make this viable?
  3. bennyjohn5

    bennyjohn5 New commenter

    Yes, four AS Physics classes
  4. Trendy Art

    Trendy Art Star commenter

    That's an unusually high number of groups!

    Mixed ability requires differentiation, while setting could create a demotivated group who pick up on their perceived status.

    You may consider the following factors:
    • Are you playing to the strengths of your staff - e.g. those who could teach at higher grades or motivate the less able
    • Can you avoid split classes
    • Are you a sixth form college - (if not then surely you will have had experience of setting for students in GCSE and note the challenges there)
    • Could the impact of a lower ability group lead to poor outcomes and therefore those students losing out and also lost funding to the school/college
  5. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    The best mixed ability groups at A level have carried the weaker kids along in a "can-do if I work hard" mood. The worst A level groups were those where everyone was struggling and despite my best efforts everyone seemed to think "it's too hard and there's no point in bothering".
    Some mixed ability groups have been polarised with the high fliers doing well but the weaker kids feeling left out. It's a tricky balance.
    If I had ever had enough candidates, I might have been tempted to have a couple of setted lessons for extension or consolidation but most of them mixed ability
  6. skvo

    skvo New commenter

    I taught physics in independent college and we always have sets. We get huge variation of abilities: from international olympiad winners to holders of C in GSCE foundation science stuck on idea to be an engineer. And everything in between. One set goes to Cambridge, one listens to the teacher talking physics for 2 years, hopefully picking up something on the way (usually getting Us and some Ds if lucky) .

    Lower ability sets I find difficult emotionally: some kids try really hard and can do well in other subjects, but insist on carrying on with physics. I feel very sorry for them. But even nice hardworking kids, when they see others in a group "not getting it either" , can easily turn onto teacher to blame. Less of that in mixed ability where they can witness others actually being ok with explanations. At my college we always share lower set and do tests with them virtually every week to minimize the damage.
  7. bennyjohn5

    bennyjohn5 New commenter

    Thanks for your ideas so far. Some very thoughtful responses. I am pondering the next academic year, I may experiment by setting lessons for extension and consolidation but keep mixed ability for the main part.
  8. ScienceGuy

    ScienceGuy Established commenter

    We had sets in AS biology for one year only (where there were two groups in the same block). It was not a success - students and teachers found it difficult with only 1 student from the lower group managing to continue to A2
  9. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I don't know how the interplay between maths and physics goes nowadays, but if those not taking maths (or with lower GCSE maths grades) struggle with the mathematical aspects, there might well be an advantage to having them together so you can tackle those bits head-on - or split the groups that way for some lessons, giving them choice between going over the mathsy bits or spending a lesson doing some more challenging stuff.
    DYNAMO67 likes this.
  10. lizziescat

    lizziescat Star commenter

    Are they timetabled at the same time?
    When we had more than one group at A level we 'Team -taught them. ie we changed the groupings according to need. Sometimes 2 groups might be put together for an introductory talk by the 'expert' teacher and then divided up (according to relevant tasks not necessarily by ability,) Tasks might have been different aspects/ways of investigating something, coming back to compare results. Sometimes a smaller group with one teacher whist a larger group went with another - allowing 'catch up' work (for absentees or those struggling or just needing more confidence) sometimes for more advanced stuff. As there were no set groups, if we did divide purely on ability, it was just another different grouping for that day/week etc

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