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UK schools 'unwilling to teach pupils in mixed-ability groups'

08/09/2017 Joanna

Schools in the UK are proving unwilling to try teaching pupils in mixed-ability groups, despite evidence suggesting this approach may offer benefits.

This is according to research from the British Educational Research Association, conducted by University College London and Queen's University in Belfast, which discovered that too few schools are using this approach to teaching to even conduct a meaningful study of the practice in this country.

Recent studies have suggested that separating students into different groups based on ability can be harmful to lower-performing pupils' chances of future success and improvement, but this continues to be the overwhelming majority approach to teaching maths and English in primary and secondary school.

For this current study, the researchers had intended to compare the performance of 120 schools that teach pupils in sets with 20 schools that taught mixed-ability classes. There were no issues recruiting enough volunteers for the former category, but for the latter only 17 eligible schools were found across the whole of England.

When asked about their reluctance to experiment with mixed-ability groups, teachers cited a lack of experience, concerns about the amount of time the change would take to implement, the possible negative impact on attainment levels and the poor response of parents.

Study leader Becky Taylor, of the UCL Institute of Education, said: "Schools are generally reluctant to engage with mixed-attainment teaching, particularly in mathematics, and even in an educational context that strongly advocates evidence-based practices.

"Mixed-attainment grouping is widely seen as difficult and unconventional, and therefore risky. It is student attainment outcomes which suffer as a result of this fear."

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