Saturday, August 12, 2006



A secondary school in England is to abolish all year groups in an effort to raise its academic performance. Pupils aged 11 to 16 at Bridgemary School in Gosport, Hampshire, will be mixed according to ability, with the brightest taking exams years early. Only a quarter of its children get five A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent, less than half the national average. Head teacher Cheryl Heron said a new approach was needed to overcome "unacceptably" low achievement. She told BBC News: "This is about making sure the bright kids are pushed and that those with less academic ability are not left behind. "Children will be able to work according to their own needs and raise their expectations."

From September, pupils will study at one of five levels, depending on their ability. These are worked out from teachers' asessments and final primary school test performances. The levels range from basic literacy and numeracy skills to A-level standard. The hope is that brighter children can get ahead, while those of lesser ability are not allowed to become bored and frustrated if they fall behind.

Each pupil will be assessed in each subject every half-term to decide whether they should be moved within a system of "personalised learning". So it would be possible for a 13-year-old to study maths at the standard of the average 15-year-old, while doing "normal" level English. Less developed pupils will get extra "catch-up" coaching. The plan is a radical departure from the common system of "streaming" or "banding" within year groups, where children are grouped according to ability.

Mrs Heron, who has already tried some mixed-age group teaching at the school, said: "A child might be good at all subjects or one subject. "It's not just academic. We offer every level of qualification from the basics upwards, in vocational subjects too. "Everything a child does will be accredited." Bridgemary, set in an economically deprived area, is working in "challenging circumstances", according to the schools watchdog Ofsted. Two fifths of its 1,200 pupils have special educational needs, while just 1.4% of parents have any experience of higher education.

Mrs Heron is encouraging older pupils to become "mentors" to their younger counterparts. She said: "A lot of people think that bullying will happen if you mix ages. There is bullying in school anyway. "The work so far had aided social interaction big time. It's given younger children the confidence to speak to older ones. "The $64,000 question is how we raise expectations and standards. We are trying to do this all the time.

"This is a template for our school. I don't know if it will work elsewhere. We've got to do what we feel is right. "I know I'm a maverick but we must try something new because the current situation is unacceptable." ....

More here

U.K.: "Setting" (i.e. streaming according to ability) makes thick pupils feel thick

Secondary school pupils placed in low-ability sets often feel stigmatised as "thick", a study suggests. Researchers at London University's Institute of Education said the system had to change to ensure these children did not lose motivation. A survey of 5,000 pupils found they largely backed setting, but those in lower groups were more likely to prefer mixed-ability classes. The government said "effective" setting raised overall academic standards.

The researchers found 62% of pupils preferred to be in sets, while 24% wanted mixed-ability classes. But children's feelings were linked to their position in the hierarchy. A greater proportion of those in the lower sets for mathematics, for example, preferred mixed-ability classes compared with those in the middle or top sets. This was reversed when they were asked about setting, with 79% of pupils in the highest sets preferring setting, 67% of those in the middle sets, and 44% of those in the lowest sets.

The pattern was similar in English and science, though in those cases there were small majorities in favour of setting even in the low ability groups (55% and 54%). Pupils who preferred setting said it meant they could work at an appropriate level. This was more important than being in a class with their friends. But those who preferred mixed-ability teaching said it helped develop social skills and co-operation between pupils. Setting made children in the bottom groups feel like giving up, they said.

Professor Susan Hallam, who co-wrote the report with Professor Judith Ireson, said: "The research demonstrates that young people are mainly concerned with being able to learn. "This is more important to them than being with their friends. If work is too easy or too difficult, the extent to which learning can take place is limited. "Schools need to find ways to ensure that work is set at the appropriate level."

The report suggests bringing in more mixed-ability classes but with pupils working at different levels within them. Alternatively, it proposes a "modular" system, with pupils being grouped by academic progress rather than age. This is already in place at Bridgemary School, a comprehensive in Gosport, Hampshire. Conservative leader David Cameron has hinted that his party might adopt such a system as its policy.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "Effective grouping of pupils by ability can raise standards and better engage pupils in their own learning. "We have encouraged schools to use setting since 1997, and will continue to do so. "Of course it is for individual schools to decide how and when to group and set pupils according to their pupils' needs." He added: "Massive investment in personalised learning, as well as reforms to 14-to-19 education will deliver catch-up classes, challenge for gifted and talented pupils, and a new curriculum to keep all pupils engaged and excelling in learning."

The study involved pupils in 45 mixed gender comprehensive schools in London and the southern counties of England, East Anglia and South Yorkshire. The report - Secondary School Pupils' Preferences for Different Kinds of Structured Grouping Practices - is published in the British Educational Research Review.


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