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December 27, 2008 / C H Thompson

Setting, streaming and mixed ability classes – revision notes


Educational attainment in England is highly stratified by social class. There is an very strong relationship between family wealth and educational success, as well as family wealth and occupational outcomes, Becky Francis, 2016.

For some sociologists this stratification is evident in England’s secondary schools where students are grouped by ability.

Historically schools have used three distinct methods when deciding how a student will be taught. All three focus on student ability.

The most commonly used methods are: setting; streaming and mixed ability. Setting and streaming are often discussed as if they’re one and the same thing, but they’re not.

  • setting is where pupils of similar ability are put in specific sets in specific subjects. So, for example, it would be possible to be in a top set for History and a lower set for mathematics.
  • streaming/banding involves grouping students of similar ability for every subject studied. Most schools split pupils into several different hierarchical groups usually A, B, C, D, with A being the top stream. This meant an A streamed student would be in the A top stream for every subject
  • mixed ability classes are where pupils of all abilities are in a single class
  • mixed ability teaching started growing in popularity from the 1970s onwards
  • By the early 1990s, a survey by authors of a study of comprehensive schools (Benn and Chitty) found that just over half of all schools were using mixed ability groups in all subjects
  • the problem is in the early 1990s, Professor Eric Bolton, the former senior chief inspector of schools in England, said few teachers taught effectively in mixed ability classes





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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 🙂


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