School streaming helps brightest pupils but nobody else

Sep 25, 2014 by

Splitting classes by ability undermines efforts to help disadvantaged children, finds research into English primaries

Splitting pupils as young as six into classes based on ability – known as streaming – makes the brightest children brighter but does little to help the rest to catch up, according to new research into schools in England.

The analysis of the progress made by 2,500 six and seven-year-olds in state primary schools in England, conducted by academics at the Institute of Education in London, found that the use of streaming appears to entrench educational disadvantage compared with the results of pupils who were taught in all-ability classes.

“Children in the top stream achieved more and made significantly more academic progress than children attending schools that did not stream while children in the middle or bottom streams achieved less and made significantly less academic progress,” wrote the authors, Susan Hallam and Samantha Parsons.

The research, to be presented on Thursday at the British Educational Research Association annual conference, follows reports this month that the government was poised to enforce a similar policy of grouping pupils by ability within classes – known as setting – before it was scrapped at the last minute.

The authors conclude that the widespread use of streaming will do little or nothing to arrest the difficulties faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those whose parents have low levels of education, or to counteract the “summer-born” effect that sees children born in July and August suffering lower attainment on average up to GCSE level.

“The data suggest that streaming undermines the attempts of governments to raise attainment for all children whatever their socio-economic status,” the paper concludes. “Overall, the evidence indicates that streaming, particularly where it begins at a very early age, is likely to be counterproductive in reducing the attainment gap.”

Supporters of streaming claim that it can help all ability groups by tailoring lesson content to their ability. But most previous studies have found little benefit for those in lower streams, although the main focus has been on streaming in secondary schools.

The new research found that the use of streaming appeared to accentuate difference in attainment in even a short space of time, between the pupils entering year one of primary school and the results of key stage one at the end of year two.

Children placed in the bottom stream did worse in maths and reading in key stage one assessments than similar children in mixed-ability classes, even after adjusting for social and parental background. But those in the top stream did better than their peers in mixed-ability classes.

The data, collected from the long-running Millennium Cohort Study, also suggested that children from families of lower socio-economic status tended to be disproportionately placed in lower streams by teachers.

via School streaming helps brightest pupils but nobody else, say researchers | Education |

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