Ofsted report fuels debate over mixed-ability teaching

Thousands of children risk being consigned to educational failure because of Ofsted demands to set pupils by ability in secondary school, teachers’ leaders have warned. This is from the Telegraph…

A move to scrap mixed-ability groups in favour of low and high sets will have a “negative impact” on standards across the board, it is claimed.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that setting and streaming resulted in a slight improvement for the top set but any gain was more than outweighed by declines in results achieved by traditionally middle- and low-achieving pupils.

The comments will fuel the debate over the value of teaching children separately according to their prior attainment in academic subjects.

It came as teaching unions bitterly rejected the conclusions of a major Ofsted report that claimed large numbers of bright pupils were being systematically failed by state comprehensives.

In a report, the watchdog claimed that clever children were well taught in just a fifth of mixed-ability lessons, often receiving “mediocre” exercises and “insufficiently challenging” homework tasks.

At least a third of schools now use mixed-ability groups for the majority of lessons aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds, with other schools employing them for some subjects, it emerged.

But Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said he was strongly in favour of setting by ability in most classes from the age of 11 onwards.

Supporters of the approach claim that it allows the brightest children to progress at their own pace while allowing those at the bottom of the ability range to get specialist help to catch up.

But the report was attacked by teachers’ leaders, who claimed it was “absolutely wrong” to suggest that secondary schools failed to set high expectations.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said that a move to scrap mixed-ability classes was contradicted by recent research on the subject.

One study by the Department for Education showed that setting in maths had a “negative effect on both attainment and motivation”, she said.

A separate study showed “that while there may be slight improvement in attainment for pupils in the top ability group, this is significantly outweighed by the negative impact on the rest of the class”, she added.

However, a study published last year by the Royal Economic Society showed that a higher proportion of “low-achieving pupils” in each class had a “negative and significant effect on the academic achievements of regular pupils” because they monopolised teachers’ attention.

More at:  Ofsted report fuels debate over mixed-ability teaching

In terms of the bright pupils, do you believe they do better in streamed or mixed ability classes? Please share your thought and experiences in the comments below, on Twitter or by using this form 

Teachers accuse Ofsted of pandering to Gove over state school criticism
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Categories: Secondary.


  1. Yvstei

    SchoolsImprove lovely example yesterday when top student went through reading paper with best friend and helped her along. Mixed ability!

  2. HD2

    I have 34 years of teaching experience.  Even in streamed (or setted) classes in selective schools. any one class has a range of abilities and it can be a struggle to challenge both ends of the ability spectrum – indeed it’s impossible to do so for EVERY pupil in EVERY class.
    That from a teacher who my Head told me after yet another OFSTED inspection ‘puts you in the top 1% of Biology teachers in the country.’
    Mixed-ability classes are absolutely inevitable in virtually every class in every school on the planet: the debate is over the RANGE of that ability.  The smaller that range, the easier it is to teach ALL the pupils well, ALL of the time.

    The ATL are a bunch of new-Communists, as anyone who has bothered to read their Union magazine over the last decade or so will know – and I’m a former member.  Oh for a return to AMMA!

  3. acet2001

    SchoolsImprove with the exception of Mathematics my school successfully teaches mixed ability classes in all other subject areas.

  4. David_AC_Grant

    SchoolsImprove Sets can only be made on *performance*. Lower ones tend to be a mixture of the can’t and the won’t. Unfair on the former?

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