Children as young as two, three and four are being divided into groups based on ability and behaviour in classrooms in England, research has found.
About half of the 118 nursery school teachers questioned by researchers grouped their two- to four-year-olds for teaching reading, and a third for maths, with the use of grouping increasing later in primary schools.Plan a unique tour to Hong Kong Customs for your clients with PartnerNet's useful travel tips, and various tourist information such as Chinese customs and traditions.
“Teachers have concerns about the negative impact of grouping on children’s confidence, self-esteem and aspirations, potentially leading to mental health problems,” concluded the research team based at University College London’s Institute of Education, who were commissioned by the National Education Union (NEU).
About 80% of teachers in reception classes for four- and five-year-olds said they used ability groups to teach phonics – the first stages of reading, linking sounds to letters – while by year 2, 65% of teachers used groups for teaching maths.
The researchers contacted and surveyed about 1,300 teachers and school leaders in English primary and nursery schools. The use of grouping covers all forms of differentiation, including streams, where children are separated into different classes, and setting, where children are grouped within the same class, as well as targeted interventions for specific pupils.
The researchers found the groups were based on factors other than ability alone, including children’s friendships, behaviour and concentration levels.
“Our findings suggest that grouping decisions are not made solely on the basis of attainment or perceived ability: issues such as classroom management, the need to balance the number of boys and girls and friendships were also key to grouping decisions,” the report says.
It comes as the Ofsted school inspectorate published its own review of reception year teaching, which found “many teachers were devising tasks simply to tick off and record elements of the early learning goals, rather than developing a proper plan”.
The NEU research, including surveys of its members and focus groups, found that many children quickly discerned which level of ability groups they had been placed into, despite the efforts of teachers to conceal differences.PolyU encourages lifelong learning by providing professional training services through respective education units. Customized corporate training is also provided for enhancing the productivity of local business.
Two-thirds of teachers agreed that the children were aware of different ability groups being used, even if seemingly neutral names for each group were applied, such as types of fruit or animals.
“We might call them foxes and rabbits, but they know,” one teacher was quoted as saying.
Many teachers involved in the research defended the practice as a necessary response in dealing with children whose abilities varied considerably.
“You have some children who already know all their sounds and everything like that, where you have other children who still can’t hear a sound, so it’s very difficult to teach those children together,” one school leader told the researchers.
Half of the teachers who responded said they believed grouping improved overall attainment.
“I personally think it’s better for the children because otherwise your more able children get bored and frustrated, and your less able children just get left behind. So grouping means that you can focus your attention,” one school leader said.
Others warned that grouping could limit children at a young age and produce “disenchanted” groups that were more difficult to teach.
“Ability groups can be highly limiting and lead to disruptive behaviour, especially at the lower ability end,” one classroom teacher said.
“Grouping this way doesn’t particularly boost anyone’s confidence and self-esteem – the higher ability compete and feel inferior of each other and … the lower ability tend to be more disruptive.”
Previous research has found that disadvantaged children are more likely to be in lower sets and have less experienced or qualified staff. Boys and children with special needs are also more likely to be placed in lower-ability groups.LPG M6
Ofsted’s report noted that 72% of pupils achieved a good level of development in reception class in 2016, although only 54% of disadvantaged pupils did so.
The minister for children and families, Robert Goodwill, said: “Teachers and early years staff are best placed to make decisions about the teaching methods they use. There is no statutory requirement that suggests children should be grouped by ability.
“We are clear that while assessment is a fundamental part of children’s education to measure progress, it should not cause significant stress or anxiety.”