I don’t know what made me feel brave enough to do this tonight but I had a bit of an uncontrollable urge to start a debate. This has been rumbling on for decades now – what’s best – mixed ability or setted classes? Seems a straightforward enough question, but I think we need to ask a supplementary – what’s best for whom? Teachers? Administrators? Learners? And also – it won’t be resolved here – I just want to open the debate (OK – it’s not the first time this has been discussed) because I get a bit upset when people I know and like talk about top and bottom sets.
I do not have my thinking straightened out on this to present a coherent argument either way but there are a few things I can say on the matter with certainty.
1. In mainstream, children know where they are in the ” pecking order” of a class
2. In mainstream, ability groupings, as far as I know, are decided on the results of summative assessments in class pertaining to attainment. Because teachers need to ba able to justify their decisions ( managerialist accountability agenda rearing its head).
3. Emerging reasearch, by Allan Thursten in York is throwing up some interesting conclusions on the ineffectiveness of same age peer paired- reading schemes, but conversely, mixed age schemes meet with better success. Wonder if this extends to other learning settings?
4. I think it would be horrible to know you were in a” bottom set” no matter how it was termed.
5. In the age of CfE and FOUR, not ONE, capacities, AND if we are persisting with setting, should we not be looking to all four when deciding criteria for who is “top” and who is ” bottom?” And if we did would that not result in , well, mixed ability?
I think everyone is capable of learning something. I know this and I’ve seen it happen, even when external expectations are low. If we artificially cap expectations based on a narrow demonstration of ability we send out signals. And not being stupid, young people pick them up. And then only ONE capacity becomes important and others get ignored (we all know which one) . It’s the one which has ALWAYS been important. It is also the one by which school and teacher success is measured. But I thought we now had 4?
I have interesting experience of this – teacher expectations count hugely. And teacher expectations drive the setting process. Attainment does too. But sometimes your own children highlight the flaws in the system perfectly. I don’t want to get too personal on this but all 3 of my children have exceeded expectations set of them by their teachers in different ways. Sometimes spectacularly. And only in one instance was it recognised. Carol Dweck’s work on mindset maybe applies to teachers as well as learners.
If you’re interested in an inclusive approach to MFL, please check out my dear friend, Hilary McColl’s website: http://hilarymccoll.co.uk/
And please can we stop talking about “bottom” sets?