23 SES 11 A, Ability Grouping
Ability or attainment groupings are a common approach to segregating students in education systems. Ability groupings can operate within-schools (e.g. streaming or setting), within-class (e.g. table groups) or across institutions (e.g. academic-track institutions vs vocational-track institutions) (Francis et al, 2016). Such groupings can also operate indirectly in education systems where ability groupings have been formally abolished (Berisha and Seppänen, 2016; Kosunen et al, 2016).
This is a topic of great international importance. Stratification of education systems through ability groupings can significantly impact on the outcomes and experiences of individual students and groups of students (Gillborn and Youdell, 2000; Dunne and Gazeley, 2008). The notion of ‘ability’ speaks to an outdated yet pervasive idea of each student possessing an innate academic ability that schools and teachers simply need to tap into (see e.g. van Ijzendoorn et al, 2005). Grouping practices influenced by the idea of the innate ability continue to influence teachers’ expectations of students, students’ own academic aspirations, and unchecked can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of students placed in low ability groupings being predisposed to achieving lower educational outcomes over their school career (Francis et al, 2016). There is evidence that the agency of students and parents to challenge placements of individual students in specific groupings may be influenced by factors related to, e.g. the family socio-economic background (Vincent and Ball, 2006). The impact of ability groupings on student outcomes can also be mediated by other factors including pedagogy and curriculum (Ireson, Hallam and Hurley, 2005). Pedagogy and curriculum are in turn influenced by education-system wide policies, practices and norms, which makes cross-country perspectives in this area of research of particular interest.
The symposium draws on empirical research on ability grouping in four different countries (England, Finland, New Zealand and Belgium). It explores issues of inequity in schools enacted through direct and indirect ability groupings, and how placement in specific groupings can impact on student outcomes and their experiences. The symposium examines ability grouping through the lens of teachers, schools, students, and analyses the discourses through which grouping practices are being justified and rationalised. A common theme across the four contexts is how teachers and schools tend to downplay the impact of ability grouping despite evidence of some negative effects on students.
The four papers in the symposium cover both primary (New Zealand) and secondary schools (England and Finland), and one paper focuses on the transition from the primary to the secondary phase of education (Belgium). The paper from New Zealand contrasts teacher and student perspectives on ability grouping and identifies the influence of national policy changes as intensifying grouping practices in classrooms. The paper from England explores how English and mathematics subject teachers justify grouping students by attainment into different sets, often referring to alternative approaches to grouping as simply not being viable. The paper from Finland examines how de facto ‘ability’ grouping practices are emerging within an education system that has abolished formal ‘ability’ grouping, and the kinds of social hierarchies that are being created in schools. The paper from Belgium is based on research in Flemish primary schools and finds that the individual school allocation procedures mediate the impact of socio-economic background on students’ educational choices for secondary school track.
Berisha, A-K. & Seppänen, P. (2016). Pupil selection segments urban comprehensive schooling in Finland. Composition of school classes in pupils’ school performance, gender, and ethnicity. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research. Ahead of print DOI:10.1080/00313831.2015.1120235. Dunne, M. & Gazeley, L. (2008) Teachers, social class and underachievement, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29:5, 451-463 Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Pepper, D., Taylor, B., & Travers, M.-C. (2016). Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability grouping’ in England: a discourse analytic account. Cambridge Journal of Education, 1-17. Gillborn, D. and Youdell, D. (2000) Rationing education – Policy, practice, reform and equity. Buckingham: Open University Press. Ireson, J., Hallam, S. and Hurley, C. (2005) What are the effects of ability grouping on GCSE attainment? British Educational Research Journal, 442-458. Kosunen, S., Bernelius, V., Seppänen, P. & Porkka, M. (2016). Pupil admission to lower secondary schools and mechanisms of school segregation in urban Finland. Urban Education. Doi: 10.1177/0042085916666933. van IJzendoorn, M.; Juffer, F. and Poelhuis, C. (2005). Adoption and Cognitive Development: A Meta-Analytic Comparison of Adopted and Nonadopted Children's IQ and School Performance. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 131(2), Mar, 301-316. Vincent, C and Ball, S. (2006). Childcare, choice and class practices: Middle class parents and their children. London: Routledge.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
Network 9. Assessment, Evaluation, Testing and Measurement
Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
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