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Sit by ability or mixed?

Discussion in 'Primary' started by studentfairy, Sep 15, 2019.

  1. studentfairy

    studentfairy New commenter

    Can I ask how everyone sits the children in their class?

    Mine are sitting mixed but I don't think it's working so I'm going to sit them loosely by ability instead. I just need all the LA in one place to help them. I'm sad about having to do this though, because of the whole ability mind set and self esteem thing :/
  2. Corvuscorax

    Corvuscorax Star commenter

    you can't generalise. You just have to find what works best for your class
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  3. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    I find it easier in mixed groups because I can work with a table and only one child needs heaps of support.
    I also hate the whole idea of ability seating for self esteem.

    However, you are you and I am me. Do whatever works for you and your class.
    Lala24 and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  4. becky70

    becky70 Occasional commenter

    I mix and match. Usually mixed ability but I have a table for a focus group so I can work with specific children. Often these will be lower ability but sometimes it may be more able children.
  5. Lara mfl 05

    Lara mfl 05 Star commenter

    I can sympathise with your not wanting to set tables by ability.

    One suggestion which could be of use.
    What I used to do was have 'partners' for each half-term. Those were chosen completely at random, via lolly sticks/ names in a hat whatever and if a pair didn't work particularly well, it was only for half a term. Children saw it was completely random and 'fair', but then I looked at the pairings and split them into the tables to ensure an even mix of abilities. Meant the only 'person' they were allowed to 'talk to' / partner chat etc was their designated partner and helped cut down on general chatter.

    Then as ctob says when sitting with' a table there's not the whole table needing help.
  6. sunshineneeded

    sunshineneeded Star commenter

    Mixed ability for everything except maths.
    Lara mfl 05 and (deleted member) like this.
  7. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Why is Maths so super-special that it requires setting? If setting is a bad idea, then why is it okay for Maths? If setting is such a good and wonderful thing, then why restrict it to Maths?

    On the whole, I would say that there are very strong and valid arguments, both for and against "mixed" ability classes. And of course it could be argued that having "ability groups" within the class is really the same as setting, but in a different way.

    Yes, of course I would agree with those who argue that a child's self-image is a very important factor that we must always take into account. Putting a child in the bottom set for a subject (including Maths!) will probably reinforce the child's own feelings that he or she is no good at that subject. On the other hand, a child who is struggling in a particular subject will not be encouraged and stimulated if other children in the class are always doing much more difficult and challenging things. He or she might even feel distracted and humiliated when the teacher gives his or her attention to "the bright group" and the teacher talks about things that the less able child does not understand.

    Now it could be argued that all classes everywhere must always be "mixed ability" classes, since it is highly unlikely that all of the students in any class will all have exactly the same ability and knowledge. However, a little gap or a small difference will not be a problem. When you have a yawning gap that makes the Grand Canyon look small, a huge gap between some very able or exceptional students and some who are way below what you would normally expect, then the argument for putting those students into different sets becomes very strong. (You would not expect someone who is recovering from a broken leg to run a Marathon, would you?)

    The bottom line, I think, is that we should not adopt a flexible approach and ask ourselves, "What really is the best for most (maybe not all) of these children?" Whether or not a particular way of teaching is politically correct or fashionable. We also need to be honest and say that what works with one particular subject might not be appropriate for another. A mixed ability class might be the right thing for some students in Maths, but not in English. Ability groups might work well for Music, but not for PE.
    sunshineneeded and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  8. hhhh

    hhhh Star commenter

    Very few high schools don't set, so I wouldn't bother about the esteem argument, as children will be setted in the future, plus they always know who is 'best' whether grouped or not, plus most people work better if with others of similar ability. Brighter children often end up just 'teaching' the others on their table if they are not grouped appropriately, and they can get bored/disengaged if they have no challenge. I know of at least two teachers who have blamed their career choice on the lack of 'setting' when they were in primary :)
    Alice K likes this.
  9. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Marjorie Kerr, from the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers, said National 5 pupils were “definitely disadvantaged” if they ended up in a class with Higher pupils “because the courses do not match up”.

    The report concluded: “Of the related issues to emerge during the inquiry, the perceived extensive increase in the use of multi-level teaching as a response to resources and curricular change was the most concerning. The clear message sent to the committee by teachers of various subjects was that teaching a mix of National 4, National 5, Higher and/or Advanced Higher candidates within the same class was challenging and would inevitably result in some pupils not receiving adequate preparation for examinations.”

    The above passages from the TES refer to schools in Scotland and of course they are about older students, not primary. However, what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander as well. If differentiation and mixed ability are the very best things for all primary students, then could someone please explain why they are completely inappropriate for secondary students?
  10. FriedEggs

    FriedEggs New commenter

    It rather depends on how you teach. I have my children mixed 'prior attainment', or at least utterly random, because
    1) I want everyone to achieve the key point of the lesson, regardless
    2) I will provide enough support and scaffolding for everyone to understand it
    3) There are always extension / deepening activities to challenge children who achieve the key point rapidly.
    4) I don't want children's prior attainment to determine their future ability.

    This does involve slowing down most children (to challenge them to think deeper) and supporting some other children. It also needs some children to get extra support outside the lesson to 'keep up'.

    However if you (or your school) want the 'highers' to achieve more than the 'lowers', put them in 'ability' groups. But you will find yourself labelling children, or they will start to label themselves. I was trained (Numeracy Strategy) to teach differentiated lessons. I have had to learn to teach differently.
    Stiltskin and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  11. abacus1982

    abacus1982 Established commenter

    Just think about what you mean by setting by "ability". Too often children are grouped by what they scored in an end of year assessment last year. This can mean that children who "had a bad year or bad test" end up with lower expectations of what they can achieve.

    Remember that KS2 progress is judged from KS1 assessments so if setting by prior attainment look at that and not just what they did in Y5 for example.
    Grandsire, Stiltskin and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  12. Over_the_hill

    Over_the_hill Star commenter

    I’m the same as @sunshineneeded. I sit in ability groups for Maths and mixed for everything else. That is purely down to the practical resources (eg some will want a number line to 10, others will need a 100 square) and also so I can sit with a table for a few minutes and move them on quickly. If they were all mixed up it’s harder to assess them (I don’t have a TA for Maths).
  13. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Star commenter

    Research shown by the Sutton Trust and EEF shows that ability grouping does not have a great positive effect on attainment. That quite often it can do more harm than good if the groupings are very fluid.
  14. TheOracleAtDelphi

    TheOracleAtDelphi Established commenter

    I'll try and find the research myself but off the top of your head can you remember whether they said why? The way I work tends to vary considerably depending on the school approach and what the class is like (I do supply* so probably have a higher number of schools than most) but I do quite often move the pupils around quite a lot depending on who I need to work with whether that is push on/deepen thinking/who got completely the wrong end of the stick last lesson and needs reteaching before moving on/who needs extra teaching/guided practice of specific skill or topic/who I have a pretty good idea is going to find it difficult/lack confidence and will get it a lot more quickly if they get a bit of extra support early on or whatever. But it sounds like the research suggests that is wrong.

    Seating is something I always really struggle with.

    *Obviously I'm talking about long term supply. On day-to-day I do my best to do whatever the plans/the TA/somebody else tells me to do!
  15. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I used to parent-help one teacher who grouped the children but varying for each topic. They would be told to go and find their books on the tables, and they might be doing different tasks, but who was with who varied from week to week - I presume that she made the decision on the basis of Monday's/other earlier work, adjusting as necessary. The higher/lower-attaining weren't always on the same table, either, so it might have been less obvious to the children.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  16. Lara mfl 05

    Lara mfl 05 Star commenter

    That's particularly true of Maths, where children may cope better with some areas of Maths than others.
  17. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Star commenter

    Sutton Trust Teaching Toolkit section on setting or streaming based on published evidence
    https://educationendowmentfoundatio...=127&t=Teaching and Learning Toolkit&e=127&s=

    The full toolkit is available at
    and is useful for looking at how could various practices that are used in teaching are based on published research in those areas.
  18. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Yes, Lara mfl 05. but isn't also the case that some children also cope better with some areas of English than others? Or French? Or Science? So if some sort of ability grouping (or setting) is appropriate for Mathematics, then why is it wrong (either on a practical or a moral level) for every other subject? Or have I missed something? Or is Mathematics completely and totally different from every other area of the curriculum, so that what is helpful and appropriate for Maths cannot possibly be right for any other subject?

    As for the "evidence" presented by the Sutton Trust, how reliable is this? And are we talking about students whose abilities are actually quite similar? Or at different ends of the learning spectrum? And does the Sutton Trust say that ability groups and setting are wrong, but they are okay for Mathematics?

    If the more able students need to be given more challenging and intellectually demanding work, then perhaps they (and their parents) might not always appreciate it when the teacher tells them to "help" the weaker students. And if we do differentiate and give the less able students easier and simpler work, then is it not likely that they will get the impression that they are not as bright as the students who are getting more demanding work? So isn't some sort of labeling more or less inevitable?

    Would you put those students who really don't like football into the football team? Or those who cannot sing a note into the school choir?

    Lastly, I find it strange that many primary school teachers are in a hurry to argue the merits of mixed ability teaching (and indeed there are some), but very few secondary teachers seem to believe in it. Why might that be, I wonder?
  19. TheOracleAtDelphi

    TheOracleAtDelphi Established commenter

    Thanks Stiltskin - I'll try and have a look when I get chance.

    The hippo - I think it depends exactly what you mean by mixed ability teaching. The first secondary I worked at didn't set for History, Geography, RS, any art subjects or any technology subjects. Maths was truly set from year seven (after an initial settling period). English introduced a two top sets, two medium sets and a need a bit more help group on each side of the year for year 8. GCSE groups were set according to likely grade. Science had them quite mixed until it came to KS4 where there were grouped according to whether they were doing separate sciences or dual award.
    The next school I worked at did loosely stream them (using KS2 results for year seven) for most academic things, although maths at least was settled separately because in most year groups they were timetabled for maths at the same time. It had the advantage that the need more support group could be smaller than an average class and could benefit from shared TA support for example. It did have disadvantages though especially if children were much stronger in some areas than others and it also meant that the same group was together an awful lot of the time which wasn't always great for interpersonal relationships/social skills etc. It would be interesting to know whether there is a more common model at secondary schools and how much of it varies by size or type of school (or indeed what is ethos and what constraints big the timetable!)

    I did go for an interview once where the head insisted on non-setted groups for maths although the HoD had put her foot down when it came to GCSE. I know some places do do it but can you imagine trying to teach transformations of graphs or algebraic proof at the same time as revising ordering numbers with others? I imagine you have to have amazing classroom management skills and be incredibly organised to have even a hope of it working.

    Incidentally I do think maths is a bit of a special case...an awful lot of advice and generic school policies really don't work for maths or are horribly hard to try and implement effectively.
  20. ptwest

    ptwest New commenter

    In my classroom I dont have groups for the children as my daily groupings are generally decided the night before when I mark their work. Factors include: Those who need more support to embed a concept, those who need an extra challenge, ensuring that all children are part of my focus group as often as I can make it happen. I feel that labeling children in groups starts a hierarchy which being more fluid avoids. There is, in my opinion, no way of teaching a differentiated curriculum without the children twigging that some are getting more challenging work than others, but by doing it this way I feel that I am not explicitly promoting top group / bottom group etc.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.

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