Skip to content
December 27, 2008 / C H Thompson

Setting, streaming and mixed ability classes

kids20in20classroomThere’s a long history regarding pupil grouping policies in England’s schools.

Sociologists argue teachers can influence pupils’ level of achievement is when they’re grouped according to predicted ability into sets or streams. Setting or streaming (sometimes referred to as banding) is where you’re placed into the top set, stream or (band) for maths and the bottom set, stream or (band) for science. In difference between setting and streaming (banding) is some schools put children into the top group for all subjects (known as streaming) while other schools might put a student in top set for maths but bottom set for English. The only problem is you might be weak in some subjects but strong in others but you still remain in the bottom stream for everything.

Ball’s research titled Beachside Comprehensive (1981) found that teachers had higher expectations of those children in the top sets or streams and so they ‘pushed’ or ‘warmed-up’ the children in these top sets or streams even more. In contrast Ball found those children placed in the lower bands or streams were taught with lower expectations, in effect they were ‘cooled down’ during lessons. As a consequence those students in the top sets or streams achieve better grades and go onto university while those in the lower sets or streams could get fewer or ‘lesser’ qualifications as there was a greater focus on vocational qualifications.

Keddie (1971) had also found that teachers taught pupils in higher-streamed classes with far greater expectations than those in lower streams; to the extent that lower streamed pupils were not given the depth of knowledge needed to achieve at a higher level even if they wanted to. You only have to consider the type of pupils who tend to sit foundation GCSE papers compared to those sitting higher tier papers.

Marxists argue there’s a direct relationship between a person’s social-class and where they are streamed or ‘setted’.  The higher your social-class the greater the chance you’ll be placed into a higher streams (band) or set.

One significant outcome of streaming and labelling is it tends to categorise particular students as ‘failures’. In contrast those people in the top streams are seen as ‘high flyers’ and are given higher status by the school. Such a clear division deprives those in the bottom streams of any status within the school. Recent research as found setting or streaming to be detrimental to a child’s education indeed it’s illegal in some countries here. The extent to which seting and streaming affects attainment can be investigated here.

Hargreaves study ‘Social Relations in a Secondary School’ and Ball’s ‘Beachside Comprehensive’ uncovered how bottom set/stream pupils often rebel against the school to develop their own set of values, behaviour and expectations. Where a group of people form an alternative set of values to the main culture they create what is known as a sub-culture.

We looked at the role of sub-cultures a few pages back because Sugerman argued that the working-classes shared different values to the middle-classes in relation to education. You can take a look here if you need to remind yourself.

Return to education overview



Leave a Comment
  1. miss m / May 9 2015 7:44 pm

    hi how can i reference this?

    • C H Thompson / May 10 2015 8:22 am

      You can use the site address 🙂


  1. Stereotyping, halo effect, labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy « Sociology at Twynham School

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: