This week Teach First,  a charity founded to encourage top graduates into teaching  and which places such graduates in ‘challenging’ secondary schools has contributed to a long-standing debate on setting in its latest report: Lessons from the Front 2009.

In this report the issue of setting is raised. 

Setting is a practice whereby pupils are taught in subjects according to their ability in a particular subject, and has been commonly used in secondary education, including in comprehensive schools despite the apparent ‘mixed ability’ characteristics of comprehensive schools.  The significance of setting is that it has been implicated in the continued under-attainment of working class pupils and fuels a differentiation and polarisation of school cultures.  Classic sociological studies which discuss and illustrate this include Hargreaves’s 1967 study: Social Relations in a Secondary School; Lacey’s 1970 work: Hightown Grammar: the school as a social system, and Ball’s 1981 study: Beachside Comprehensive.

Now, in the report conducted by Teach First, the graduate teachers working in schools have added to this with their observations that not only is setting damaging for pupils in lower sets in terms of motivation and low teacher expectations, but that setting is there for the convenience of teachers.

However, viewers of last week’s episode of Waterloo Road may have taken note of how Grantly Budgen reacted when the introduction of setting was proposed.  He clearly did not appear to be inconvenienced by the prospect of setting and was concerned about a teacher’s status being reflect by the ability group he or she taught.   In fact many of his colleagues shared a concern   introduction of setting, perhaps sharing some of the concern of the Teach First teachers?


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