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To set or to not set?

Discussion in 'English' started by marple1, Jan 20, 2020.

  1. marple1

    marple1 New commenter

    Fellow Secondary School English teachers.
    Do you use set groups for your English Curriculum and if so when does setting in English start? Yr7? Start of KS4?
    If you do set, what criteria do you use to put students into sets? End of Yr assessment? Prior attainment data? CAT scores?
    And finally, do you feel setting or mixed ability is the better 'system '.
    Thank you so much for any feedback.
  2. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    Currently, we don't set in KS3 and we do set in KS4..... though I'm not 100% we will continue to do so (I'm HoD, so get to decide these things, though I will obviously ask the rest of the department their opinion).

    The research I've read suggests setting helps the nighest ability only, and can sometimes hold back lower ability pupils. Plus, we don't have the numbers to do it accurately: if I look at our Year 11 sets, for example, there are students in top set that are really not top set students and vice versa. Now that everyone sits the same papers at GCSE there seems like even less reason to set...
    marple1 likes this.
  3. pianopete

    pianopete Occasional commenter

    When I took over as HoD we gradually removed any ability grouping throughout the school. The initial rationale was behaviour and the fact that students rarely moved up/down in a fair way as classes were so full (big higher groups to try and have smaller lower groups). Once tiers of entry were removed and literature became compulsory for all it seemed a no-brainer. We have not seen a decrease in progress as a result, even with the new harder GCSE. It took time and training but teaching is definitely stronger and more considered as a result.

    I would also say that, most importantly, no student feels like they have an ability label placed on them. The word set is rarely used by staff or students any more. Students feel comfortable in class and all students feel they can comment on texts, share ideas and contribute regardless of target grade.

    It was definitely the right decision. I copied maths then the rest of the school copied us and we no longer talk about ability grouping at all.
    Lidnod, marple1 and tb9605 like this.
  4. dodie102

    dodie102 Occasional commenter

    Pianopete hits the nail on the head here. However I would have one caveat. We do look at our cohort each year and if say we have a Y7 intake with a few who aren't anywhere near 'secondary ready' we may well put on a small intervention class that will spend time on shoring up the basics before teaching an adapted curriculum that is very similar to the rest of the year group.
    pianopete and marple1 like this.
  5. OneLooseCrank

    OneLooseCrank Occasional commenter

    We do not stream students in KS3 or KS4. This had had serious ramifications in singular instances where some very weak students spend their entire education amongst students whom they simply don't understand. It hits their esteem really hard when they are so obviously cut from different cloth, and streaming can protect individuals from feeling like the high fliers set the bar for all to o'er leap. Differentiation through worksheet, activity or outcome only reinforces that these individuals are not as capable.
    Sometimes, mixed sets do well to integrate the learning of high and middling abilities, but it does seem to me that we expect the high ability students to act the part of class TA in 'peer teaching' or supporting those students who have fallen behind, and thus are themselves disadvantaged. It should be up to the provision of the school to meet the needs of the students through smaller class sizes and more time given to the individualising of lessons to those groups.
    When I have taught in schools with streaming and 'intervention classes', it is seen that those lower groups do not 'catch up by going slower'. They are assisted in the lower groups because they can obtain fewer skills and knowledge more successfully - but the fact is, higher sets move faster through more and differentiation does not speed up learning. It doesn't close the gap. I think the big benefit is not that it helps students to catch up, but that it inhibits the suppression of their grades from being exposed to high ability thinking that they sometimes receive as a humiliation.
    VeronicAmb and marple1 like this.
  6. sliebenberg

    sliebenberg New commenter

    What about behaviour management? We are a tricky comprehension and find not setting ends up affecting the higher abilities and the quieter students.
  7. OneLooseCrank

    OneLooseCrank Occasional commenter

    Remember that good management requires a degree of a gregarious nature, and confidence at instructing, persuading or presenting others. Quite, academic students often lack these highly employable qualities.
    I see students regularly changing their stars through hard study, but I rarely see quiet students change their natural tendency toward introversion. It's easier to develop intelligence than it is to make an extrovert. So reward each student for their abilities, even if its something you can't directly assess. Plenty of people fail their GCSEs but go on to become successful managers because of the natural skills they have.

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