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Calling schoolchildren 'average' may lead to poorer performance, new study shows

26/09/2017 Joanna

Many schoolchildren are seeing their strengths and weaknesses overlooked by teachers due to a misleading perception that they are "average" performers.

This is according to a new report from GL Assessment, which has indicated that too many children are routinely being identified as average, meaning their abilities and problems are overlooked as a consequence.

Analysing 24,000 children, the report suggested that the vast majority exhibit some type of definite verbal, quantitative or spatial reasoning bias, with only around 20 per cent of children truly demonstrating "average" performance across the ability range.

For example, children with weaker verbal capabilities who are average in other abilities will tend to struggle with English, while those who are quantitatively and spatially weaker tend to have problems with maths and science. However, the perception that they are "average" performers means they are less likely to receive the tailored support they require to address these weaknesses.

Of particular concern is the fact that this can ultimately have a negative impact on GCSE results. Among the half of students in the middle of the ability range, the chances of getting a B or above in English at GCSE ranged from one in ten to seven in ten in 2016, depending on their verbal reasoning bias.

For maths, meanwhile, only one per cent of "average" students with weaker quantitative skills gained an A or A* at maths in 2016, whereas this rose to 30 per cent for those who were more quantitatively able.

Shane Rae, head of publishing at GL Assessment, said: "When teachers have access to more granular information about their students, it is easier for them to identify who may be struggling below the radar and who may be capable of exceeding expectations with a bit of targeted support.

"Of course, many teachers already know this but while calling children average tells us a lot about their relative strengths and weaknesses compared to other children, it tells us precious little about how an individual learns."

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