Evidence-based practice or personal opinion-based policy – proposed return of selective grammar schools
The recently announced British Government policy of opening more Grammar Schools with selective entry at age eleven is simply a more drastic example of ability grouping, alongside the streaming and setting of pupils that currently occurs in schools internationally.
Ability grouping in education has been extensively researched over the past 30 years with remarkably consistent findings from the various major reviews of studies.
One such review, from the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, cited in the 2016 White Paper on Education, concludes,
“Overall, setting or streaming appears to benefit higher attaining pupils and be detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower attaining learners. On average, setting or streaming does not appear to be an effective strategy for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to be assigned to lower groups.”
This finding is consistent with those from other major sources of reviews of research on ability grouping that are available through google searches. These reviews consistently show that ability grouping is not an effective strategy for improving academic achievement in schools.
This is also consistent with my own research on the topic, conducted in New Zealand, which found that schools recognized that ability grouping did not improve overall levels of academic achievement but used it anyway. The high school study is linked below.
Given the weight of evidence against the use of ability grouping to improve overall achievement, why would any government seek to support the increased use of what might be viewed as one of the more draconian forms of it?
Is it because the real intention is to benefit the few higher performing pupils at age eleven, who are disproportionately from wealthier families, at the expense of the majority of pupils?
Or is it because policy makers are simply unaware of the many evidence-based strategies for improving educational achievement that can be identified from several sources, including the Teaching and Learning Toolkit referred to above?
This is a debate that is bound to grow over the next few years.
Professor Garry Hornby
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Mind your Grammar by Garry Hornby was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.