The Daily Mail, that Ofsted report, and setting for pupils: what does the evidence say?

by Stephen Tall on June 13, 2013

It’s my own fault, I know, for looking at the Daily Mail:

Put pupils in sets at 11 to help brightest, says Ofsted: Call for pupils to be separated to make sure top students don’t slip back academically

Pretty definitive, yes? Pretty accurate? No. Here’s what Ofsted’s report actually says:

In around a third of the schools visited, students were taught mainly in mixed ability groups throughout Key Stage 3. … In the very best schools, this did not appear to have a detrimental impact on students’ progress because the teaching was carefully planned and well matched to the most able students’ needs. (p.19)

Does that mean mixed ability teaching always works? No:

In the less effective schools, the work was pitched at the level of the average-attaining students. It was not challenging enough for the most able and their progress was insufficient.

Conclusion: mixed ability teaching can work, but only if done well. Colour me surprised.

Actually don’t, as it’s what the existing evidence suggests will happen. [Dons work hat] The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit shows setting and streaming has a negative impact on pupils’ attainment overall:

The evidence consistently shows that while there may be some benefits for higher attaining pupils in particular subjects (with an average impact of one or two additional months progress for this group) these benefits are largely outweighed by the direct and indirect negative effects for mid-range and lower performing learners, with low attaining learners falling behind by on average one or two months a year compared with their progress in a class without segregation.

More able pupils can continue to be stretched through flexible within-class grouping for particular tasks, or perhaps through individual programmes for those identified as gifted and talented. [Removes work hat]

But unfortunately lots more people will take the Daily Mail headline at face value than read the actual evidence. (Yes, there are people out there who do that, apparently: what’s worse, we give them the vote anyway).

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