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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 01:12 GMT 02:12 UK
Streamed classes 'demotivate'
Streaming can demotivate the lower sets - research
Grouping pupils by ability does not automatically raise standards and could just serve to demotivate those in lower sets, research suggests.

A study of ability groupings in the UK and other countries found children in lower sets tended to be taught a reduced curriculum and given repetitive work that offered little challenge or stimulation.

Where pupils don't feel valued by the school, they will seek other ways of maintaining self-esteem

Dr Sue Hallam, London University's Institute of Education
Dr Sue Hallam of London University's Institute of Education said these pupils, who are viewed by their school as unlikely to achieve, become easily demoralised and potentially disruptive.

"Where pupils don't feel valued by the school, they will seek other ways of maintaining self-esteem, such as buying into sub-cultures which hold anti-educational values, where it is "cool" to be alienated," said Dr Hallam.

Dr Hallam's research also found pupils in the top ability sets were often disadvantaged by setting.

The fast pace and pressure on them to achieve could often lead to anxiety and distress, she said.

"When a school overemphasises academic achievement and glorifies high ability, pupils at both ends of the spectrum may have negative experiences.

"Pupils whose abilities lie in the arts or mechanics may end up feeling that these are of lower status and not very important at all."

'Average child'

Dr Hallam said the solution was not for teachers to direct lessons at an "imaginary average child".

One way forward would be to have small groupings within mixed ability classes, where different groups could work at their own pace.

Another solution would be modular courses, where secondary school pupils would take compulsory and optional modules, progressing to the next stage when they have passed the previous module.

This would offer greater flexibility and the chance of each pupil to work at his or her own pace.

Modular courses

In her research Dr Hallam draws attention to one school where a modular curriculum was introduced alongside the core curriculum for 16% of the time in Year 9, increasing to 28% of the time in Years 10 and 11.

The aim was to raise standards by improving student motivation by promoting personal ownership of learning, offering a wide range of subjects, allowing students to decide how much time they wanted to commit to particular subjects and giving them the opportunity for some specialisation.

"The main benefits of modular systems lie in the way that they can empower learners and increase motivation and self-determination. They also offer flexibility," said Dr Hallam.

The might also cut down on truancy rates, she added.

Dr Hallam's report - Ability Grouping in Schools - reviewed literature on ability grouping from the first studies in 1919 to 2001 and looks at research evidence from Europe, the USA and the Far East.

Copies are available from the Institute of Education on 020 7612 6050.

See also:

06 Sep 01 | Education
Doubts over mixed ability classes
23 Aug 00 | Education
Single sex classes 'not the answer'
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