Teachers Form ‘Ability Groups’ among Students

Category: Education/Family


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. phonics / ˈfɒn ɪks / (n) – a system of teaching reading and pronouncing words by using the sounds of letters and syllables

    Most pre-schools include phonics in their program to make learning reading and writing easier for children.   

  2. statutory / ˈstætʃ ʊttɔr i / (adj) – required by law

    All seventh graders in the country will undergo statutory exams at the end of the term.  

  3. dampen / ˈdæm pən / (v) – to weaken

    The student’s low marks dampened his confidence.

  4. rowdy / ˈraʊ di / (adj) – out of control

    The grandmother threw disapproving looks to the rowdy teenagers in the train.

  5. reap / rip / (v) – to receive something as a result of an action

    Students will reap the benefits of their hard work when they graduate.  


Read the text below.

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.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you agree that grouping children by ability reduces their self-esteem? Why or why not?
• In what other ways do you think forming ‘ability groups’ can affect students?

Discussion B

• Aside from forming groups, how else can teachers help students prepare for tests?
• How do you think teachers should treat students?