Evaluation of best practice in grouping students Setting initiative


Why are you doing this research?

‘Ability grouping’ has been a long-standing topic of contention. Evidence suggests that i) students from disadvantaged backgrounds are over-represented in low sets and streams, and ii) that students in these low groups make less progress than students in higher sets/streams, and than their counterparts in mixed attainment classes. However, the research is less clear on why this is the case, and whether it can be addressed by better practice. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the impact of different, research-informed approaches to grouping students, on students’ learning outcomes. It will also explore how outcomes vary between different students according to factors such as student background, prior attainment, student gender and ethnicity.

Who will benefit from this research?

We hope that students in schools across the country will benefit from this research as it will inform education policies and practices in England. We also hope that your school will benefit, via access to high quality CPD and research-informed practice designed to support progress and achievement for all students.

Who is carrying out the research?

The research is being carried out by a team from King’s College London (KCL), led by Professor Becky Francis. It is funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and is being independently evaluated by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER). NFER are also helping to recruit schools to the study.



What is NFER’s role in the study?

NFER are evaluating the project. They will randomly allocate schools to the intervention or control group. NFER will conduct telephone interviews with some teachers. NFER will administer tests developed by GL Assessment in English (‘Progress Test in English’) and maths (‘Progress Test in Maths) to a sample of students at the end of Year 8. NFER will supply additional copies of the tests to schools on request. NFER will use the data from the tests and staff questionnaires to evaluate the intervention and will disseminate the headline findings of the intervention. NFER are also helping to recruit schools to the study.

What is the Education Endowment Foundation’s role in the project?

EEF are funding the project and will help to disseminate the findings.

What is KCL’s role in the project?

KCL has developed and will be delivering the intervention to schools. They will also be undertaking their own research, although this is separate to the evaluation NFER will be undertaking.

What does the school need to do as part of the project?

What the school does depends on whether it is allocated to the intervention or control group.

All schools will need to provide the research teams at KCL and NFER with data about their students which will enable NFER to administer the GL Assessment progress tests to a sample of Year 8 students in summer 2017. Schools will need to facilitate students and teachers completing questionnaire surveys and may need to make students and staff available for interviews.

Schools will need to follow instructions for setting and teach students according to evidence-based best practice for teaching students in sets. Schools will need to send two English teachers and two maths teachers to each of the twilight professional development sessions. The setting instructions relate to the number of sets (no more than four set levels), allocation of students to sets using KS2 results only, random allocation of teachers to sets and moving students between sets at specific times during the intervention according to test results.

Schools in the control group continue with their usual teaching practices.



We currently stream students – are we eligible to participate?

If you would be willing to change your practice to setting, you would be able to participate. Participant schools are not allowed to apply streaming.

We divide our students into two (or more) bands by ability and group within these – are we eligible to participate?

If you would be willing to change your practice to setting, you would be able to participate. Participant schools are not allowed to apply banding.

We set for Maths but not for English – are we eligible for 'Best practice in setting'?

Yes. We can recruit a smaller number of schools that set in maths only. In these schools only the maths department will participate in the trial.



When is the deadline for committing to the project?

The deadline for committing to the project is Friday 12th June 2015 but we would like schools to commit to the project as soon as possible.

When does the study start?

Schools will be randomly allocated to the intervention and control groups in June 2015. The first professional development events for the intervention will be in July 2015. The intervention applies to students who will start in Year 7 in September 2015.

When does the study end?

The study will end in July 2017, when the participating students have reached the end of Year 8. The final report will be published on the EEF website in early 2018.

When will we know if we have been allocated to the control or intervention group?

Randomised allocation to intervention and control groups will take place in June 2015. You will be informed soon after.

Professional development

When will the professional development events be?

Professional development events will begin in July 2015. Schools allocated to the intervention group will be given a calendar of events and venues in June 2015.

Where will the professional development events take place?

Professional development events will take place at regional venues. These will be confirmed in June 2015.

How many professional development events will there be?

The intervention consists of four twilight professional development sessions over two years.


Data collection

What tests will you be using to assess students’ progress in English and maths?

We will be using GL Assessment’s new Progress Test in Maths and Progress Test in English. These are designed for Year 8 students and correspond to the new National Curriculum.

What data will be collected?

Background data about students will be collected through the National Pupil Database. To enable us to undertake the analysis we will require Year 7 pupil names, date of birth and UPNs. NFER will contact participating control and intervention schools to collect this information in September 2015.

KCL will ask schools for students’ Key Stage 2 results. KCL will collect their own data about student and staff attitudes to grouping and to learning through questionnaire surveys and interviews. Attainment data for English and maths will be collected from a sample of Year 8 students in Summer 2017, using GL Assessment’s Progress Test in English and Progress Test in Maths.

How will you handle data?

All those involved in the project treat all personal data in the strictest confidence and no individual school, student or teacher is identified in any report arising from the trial. Full ethical approval for the study has been obtained from the KCL ethics board.

When will the report be available?

The report will be available in early 2018.

Where will the report be published?

The report will be published on the EEF website and disseminated by EEF, KCL and NFER.

Do you need to visit the school?

We will need to visit the school only if your school is selected for student and staff interviews.

Do the research team have current Disclosure and Barring Service checks?

All members of the research team who may visit schools have current DBS checks.

Who needs to give consent for participation in this study?

The Headteacher gives consent to take part in the trial on behalf of the school. In addition, parents/carers and students themselves will be fully informed of the data we will be collecting (e.g. from questionnaires, tests and interviews) and may choose to withdraw their data from the study. They can do this by returning an opt-out consent form which we will send to schools for circulation to parents/carers. Students can withdraw their data from the study at any time up until the end of the intervention. Although we would encourage them to take part, teachers may also withdraw their data from the study and choose not to participate in research activities.

Who has given ethical approval for this study to take place?

The study has ethical approval from KCL.


Research methods

What is a randomised controlled trial (RCT)?

A randomised controlled trial is a type of study in which the people being studied are allocated randomly either to receive an intervention or to be in a control group that does not receive the intervention, so that any effect of the intervention can be assessed by comparing outcomes for the two groups.

Can I choose whether I am in the intervention or control group?

No. In a randomised controlled trial, participants are allocated at random to the intervention or control group.



What are the incentives for participation?

Schools in the intervention groups will receive: free, high quality professional development, access to research on best practice, practical strategies for raising attainment, evidence-based guidance on differentiation, approaches to address Progress 8, direct involvement in research, the opportunity to access free GL Assessment maths and English tests to assess students' progress and the chance to contribute to the evidence-base for raising attainment for disadvantaged students.

Schools in the control group will receive a one-off payment of £1000 at the end of the study; the opportunity to access free GL Assessment maths and English tests, the chance to contribute to the evidence-base for raising attainment for disadvantaged students, and be among the first to receive the report of the study findings in 2018.


The school

Who from the school will need to be involved?

Students in Year 7 (2015-16) and Year 8 (2016-17) will participate in the study, along with their English and maths teachers. Two English teachers and two maths teachers will need to attend professional development events if the school is in the intervention group. The Headteacher must give consent for the school to participate and senior leadership team support will be needed throughout the study.

What expenses will be paid?

KCL will pay standard class travel expenses to and from the professional development events.

How can we get involved in the study?

You can get involved by responding to your school’s approach letter which will include a form to complete and return which commits you to the project. Alternatively you can contact Asma Ullah on 01753 637432 or by email (a.ullah@nfer.ac.uk) if you have any queries.

Read the full privacy notice for this project here.

Read the report Read the article