23 SES 11 A, Ability Grouping
Finnish comprehensive school transferred from a dual system of elementary and grammar schools to a uniform comprehensive system (in 1972–1977), where all pupils were taught according the Nordic ideology of ‘one school for all’ (en skola för alla). It provides a similar wide core curriculum, locally adjusted in municipalities and schools, does not officially apply ability-based grouping, and aims to offer multileveled support for learning to be inclusive in all schools. However, there are three ways of de facto grouping the pupils based on their abilities: the first one is based on teachers’ pedagogical freedom to teach pupils sporadically in short term smaller groups, similar to ‘ability grouping’. Secondly, pupil selection to teaching emphasising some school subjects as a form of school choice within the comprehensive system is known to create patterns of distinction and segregation between and within schools (Kosunen et al. 2016), where the groups differ from class to class also regarding the performance of the pupils (Berisha & Seppänen 2016). Thirdly, regardless of the intentions of inclusion and flexibility inscribed in the new three-level support system since 2010, part of special needs education is still arranged in small groups separated from general education (e.g. Lempinen et al 2016; Riitaoja et al., submitted). However, all pupils receive an eligibility to apply for general or vocational upper secondary education and secondary certificates provide eligibility to apply for further studies in tertiary level. Ability-grouping has its influence also on the pupils’ attitudes and identities as learners (van Houtte & Stevens 2009). In this presentation we ask, through which discourses are the subjectivities and social positions of the pupils in different groups within the schools discussed, which features are producing and reproducing and possibly unravelling social hierarchies within schools, and what kinds of patterns of othering and marginalisation are discovered. We have applied critical discourse analysis when analysing interview material with teachers and other staff members (n=33) and pupils (n=61), conducted in 2013–2015 in two lower secondary schools in the capital area of Finland, Helsinki, as a part of a larger research project on marginalisation and belonging. The preliminary findings indicate that pupils’ level of achievement influences how teachers conceive the pupils, which in turn is linked to students’ patterns of behaviour as pupils and their social and ethnic backgrounds. Teachers’ conceptions on students impact students’ learning identities and possibilities of academic success. (Riitaoja et al., submitted.)
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. DOI:10.1080/00313831.2015.1120235. Hautamäki, J., Kupiainen, S., Marjanen, J., Vainikainen, M.-P. & Hotulainen, R. (2013). Oppimaan oppiminen peruskoulun päättövaiheessa. Tilanne vuonna 2012 ja muutos vuodesta 2001 [Learning to learn at the end of basic education. Results in 2012 and changes from 2001]. Helsinki, Finland: Opettajankoulutuslaitos, Helsingin yliopisto. 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. Lempinen, S., Berisha, A-K. & Seppänen, P. (2016). Inkluusion ja kouluvalinnan dilemma – Oppilaan tuen taso ja yläkoulujen oppilaaksiotto Turussa. [The dilemma of inclusion and school choice] Kasvatus, 47(2), 125–138. Riitaoja, A. L., Helakorpi, J. & Holm, G. (submitted). Being prepared for a vocational or academic future: the reasoning of teachers and students on dividing SEN-class practices. van Houtte, M. & Stevens, P. A. (2009). Study involvement of academic and vocational students: Does between-school tracking sharpen the difference? American Educational Research Journal, 46, 943-973.
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