We generally accept the grouping and streaming of children by their ability as part of mainstream educational practice, especially during secondary years.
But is it really necessary and does it serve the learners well?
Concerns have been raised about it again recently because of the government’s intention to introduce grouping of children in Key Stage 1, and even during their nursery years years, despite teachers’ warnings that this can have a detrimental effect on their attainment and cause unnecessary stress to all involved.
This has prompted a report by the National Education Union to look into the effect grouping has on learners and teachers, what impact it has on social mobility, and whether grouping of this kind is even necessary. It also asks how much of a part commercial companies play in driving the practice.
The report draws quite worrying conclusions mainly to the effect that grouping children, particularly at this young age, can have more of a damaging effect than a worthwhile one because with grouping comes testing and labelling. It causes extra workloads for already stretched staff. It can affect the self esteem of learners, cause anxiety for parents and consequently upset home life. It creates a danger of children becoming ‘stuck’ in groups that are not a true reflection of their ability and can have the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy where learners perform to their labels. It can also become difficult to remove labels applied when children are young.
There’s also a slight sense from the report that sometimes grouping is practiced to facilitate commercial gain with regard to resources, which is hardly a learner based decision.
Reading the report there’s a feeling that the whole practice is much about meeting the needs of a political obsession with measurement and box ticking, rather than the needs of individuals. Teaching large numbers of children individually would be hard to do without some grouping practice, but taking into account the conclusions above there’s a danger of children being lost in a group very young and not achieving to their potential.
Like other policies that teachers and learners have foisted upon them, this new intention to group young children disregards the voice of the professionals.
Many teachers and educational professionals have regularly opposed some of the testing, streaming and grouping practices the government imposes and tried to make a stand. (Like the boycott of the SATs by some earlier this year)
Perhaps parents could support their teachers’ views as they are the ones who are at the frontline of education and teaching and would surely know what works well for the children in their care. Ironically, many of the policy makers have no educational background at all.
The report ends by urging both parents and teachers to continue to ask questions of grouping practices and speak out.
It is really parents who have the greatest power to change practices they think are having a negative effect on their children’s education. A start is to make sure that this intended grouping of children as young as nursery age is not accepted without conversation and concerns being addressed.