Having primary school teachers group their pupils by ability could have negative ramifications for the younger children in their classes, a new study has warned.
Tammy Campbell from the Institute of Education scrutinised information on how more than 5,000 English seven-year-olds followed by the Millennium Cohort Study were being taught.
She found that 97 per cent of these children, all of whom were born during 2000-01, had been subjected to some form of ability-based grouping by the age of seven.
Her research also revealed that, by this stage, pupils born in September were nearly three times as likely to be in the top stream within their year as those born in August, with the difference even more pronounced in schools were pupils were grouped by ability for certain subjects.
Ms Campbell warned: "If teachers place younger pupils early in their school career in lower ability groupings and older pupils in higher groupings, this hasty (and potentially premature) sorting may have a significant impact on subsequent differences in educational attainment."
She continued: "By following the children over time, we should be able to determine if early ability grouping is in fact contributing to younger children's poorer outcomes in later life."
The study indicated that almost 80 per cent of the children considered were grouped by primary teachers in class for most or all teaching, with 87 per cent being grouped in class for literacy lessons and 85 per cent for numeracy.
Furthermore, over 30 per cent of the children were grouped within their year for English lessons and 37 per cent for maths, while nearly one in five were streamed by ability within their year.
As a result, more than 80 per cent of these seven-year-olds pupils had been subjected to at least three types of grouping at the same time.
Some previous studies have indicated that ability-based grouping can entrench divisions between pupils, affecting children's self-perception, behaviour, interactions with teachers and their academic opportunities.
Past research has also suggested that children born in the summer months tend to lack the confidence of autumn-born pupils and are also more at risk of being bullied.
Posted by Alan Douglas