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May 14, 2018 / C H Thompson

Setting, streaming and mixed ability classes – revision notes

  • Several studies have looked at the effects of ability groups in secondary schools
  • they’ve found a tendency for middle-class pupils to be placed in the higher groups and working-class pupils placed in lower groups
  • Ball’s study of Beachside Comprehensive, 1981, examined the effect of banding and streaming on pupil performance.
  • Ball found top stream students were warmed-up because they had higher expectations of students in the top set or stream
  • while those students in lower streams or sets were cooled-down because the teacher had lower expectations
  • most teachers prefer teaching higher ability groups because the conduct tends to be better
  • in contrast lower performing groups are more likely to have behavioural issues, and a tendency to form anti-school subcultures, consequently the teacher has lower expectations as they have to spend more time controlling students


  • Research suggests that young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are doubly disadvantaged as evidence shows they are over-represented in low sets and streams, where students tend to make less progress
  • Becky Francis’ research found a distinct lack of movement (very little promotion or relegation) between groups even when a pupil repeatedly does well
  • There is some evidence that teachers perceived as lower quality tend to be placed with lower ability groups (Slavin, 1990; Hallam et al, 2001)
  • while higher sets are more likely to be allocated highly qualified and
    experienced teachers, whereas lower sets are less likely to be taught by a subject specialist, and experience more changes of teacher (Kutnick et al, 2005)

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