Monday, August 31, 1998 Published at 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
Mixed ability teaching 'better for most pupils'
Different groups in 45 schools were studied
Teachers believe that placing secondary school pupils in sets according to their ability generally benefits the bright but damages the self-esteem of those in lower sets, according to new research.
The findings are from an Institute of Education project on how student grouping affects academic, personal and social progress.
The teaching staff generally concluded that groups made teaching and class management easier, and enabled pupils' academic needs to be better met.
But there were greater discipline problems in lower ability classes, where a different approach was needed to teaching.
The study - presented to the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association in Belfast on Saturday - reveals that teachers' views are influenced by the grouping methods used in their own schools.
Teachers working in schools with mixed ability classes tend to view mixed ability teaching more favourably than those in schools which use streaming, and vice versa.
It is unclear whether the teachers' different attitudes were influenced by their environment or whether teachers sought out an environment which fitted their view of education.
English and humanities were seen as the subjects most appropriate for mixed ability classes. Maths and modern languages were considered least appropriate.
Another paper by a team from King's College London, which looked specifically at the effect of grouping on mathematics students, found that girls suffered from being placed in sets.
Although girls generally do better than boys in GCSEs, boys outperform girls in the top GCSE grades in maths. The researchers think this is because of the hothouse environment in the highest ability sets.
Girls they interviewed believed they would have been happier in lower sets. But the researchers also found that pupils in the bottom sets felt their work was not challenging enough and there were complaints about poor quality teaching and the frequency with which teachers were changed.