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A joint research by the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education and the National Education Union (NEU) has found that teachers group students according to their level of ability.
The study, which involved around 1,400 teachers, revealed that pre-school and primary school teachers have adopted the practice of forming ‘ability groups’ in phonics, reading, mathematics, and literacy. The teachers did so in order to help students gear up for statutory tests.
Over 70% of the respondents said that this kind of grouping strategy helps ease teaching and classroom management.
However, some people raised concerns about this strategy. NEU joint general secretary Dr. Mary Bousted stated that forming ability groups can negatively affect students as it can widen the achievement gap between high-ability students and low-ability students. It can also dampen the students’ self-esteem. In addition, others pointed out that these groupings pose restrictions and trigger rowdy behavior, especially among the low-ability students.
According to Guy Roberts-Holmes, one of the study’s authors, teachers remain torn about the scheme. A respondent said that, while it causes some students to reap its rewards at the cost of others, it remains to be essential in learning.
Nevertheless, the UCL Institute of London and the NEU do not completely rule out ‘ability grouping,’ as there are different methods that can be used to effectively implement this strategy. One is ‘streaming,’ which assigns children to certain classes based on perceptions of their ability. Another is ‘setting,’ a system that places students in groups for specific subjects and withdraws them from their regular mixed-ability classes. The researchers also suggested ‘interventions,’ or the removal of certain students from a class for increased support and additional activities.