Streaming, Setting and Grouping by Ability: A review of the literature

Laura Sukhnandan, Barbara Lee

24 November 1998

Since the Education Reform Act of 1988 increasing numbers of schools have returned to the practice of grouping pupils by ability. This has partly been in response to policy changes such as the implementation of the National Curriculum, and the introduction of market-led principles which has increased parental choice and increased competition between schools, through publication of league tables.

This report, based on an analysis of more than 20 major studies in the UK and the USA, challenges some of the assumptions about streaming, setting and grouping by ability. It attempts to assess the implications of the adoption of ability grouping practices by schools through a review of the research literature on ability grouping. The review focuses on streaming, setting and within-class grouping in relation to mixed ability teaching and highlights their effects on:

  • pupil achievement, both overall and in relation to pupils of different ability levels
  • institutions, in terms of organisational requirement
  • teaching approaches and teachers' attitudes and perceptions
  • pupil attitudes, self-perceptions, friendship patterns, school involvement and social characteristics
  • the changing British context.

This report will be of interest to teachers, LEA advisers and policy makers who are concerned with the impact of ability grouping on pupils both academically and socially.

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