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Setting, rather than streaming, in primary schools provides a ...
Setting, rather than streaming, in primary schools provides a

powerful lever for raising standards, so long as it is carefully

implemented and properly managed, say Her Majesty's Inspectors from


A new survey of the practice of setting - grouping children by

ability for specific subjects - uses evidence from OFSTED inspection

data, from a questionnaire and from focused inspections by HMI.

It endorses the government's view that setting is well worth


'Where teachers understand its potential and modify their

teaching techniques accordingly, setting can be a very successful

way of organising teaching groups,' HMI say in the report Setting

in Primary Schools, published today by OFSTED.

They point out that setting does not, by itself, guarantee

success in raising standards nor can it compensate for poor teaching.

However, evidence from school inspections suggests that the quality

of teaching in setted lessons in the three core subjects is slightly

better than in lessons with the full ability range.

A very large proportion of the schools inspected by HMI for the

survey showed a clear trend of rising standards for pupils of all

abilities, setting had become properly established.

The large majority of the schools visited achieved higher scores

- in some cases spectacularly so - in national tests in setted

subjects in 1997 than they did in the previous year. The vast

majority of teachers and headteachers schools reported that standards

were higher and the quality of education provided was better than

before setting was introduced.

A questionnaire to 900 randomly-chosen schools found that about

six out of ten junior schools set for at least one subject in some

year groups, while one half of combined infant and junior schools and

over one-third of infant schools do so. Setting is mainly used in

Years 5 and 6 (pupils aged 8-11).

Of the schools using setting, most do so for maths (96 per

cent), English (69 per cent) and science (9 per cent). A very few

schools set for French, music and team games in physical education.

Evidence from school inspection data for 1997/98 shows that the

use of setting has doubled to four per cent of all lessons from the


Among other main findings to come out of the survey:

* a characteristic of successful teaching in sets was the

extensive use of whole class teaching, facilitated by the narrower

ability range

* the pace of lessons was brisk

* teachers had a clearer idea of what was expected of them and

what they should expect of their pupils

* schools need to develop a degree of overlap between sets so

mobility of pupils between sets is not hindered


1 Setting in Primary Schools (ref. HMI 163) is available, free of

charge, from the OFSTED publications centre PO Box 6927, London E3

3NZ. Tel: 0171 510 0180.

2 'Setting' is the grouping of children by ability within or

across classes for a specific subject. Thus children could be in

different teaching groups for, say, maths and English. 'Streaming' is

where pupils of similar ability are taught together for all subjects.

Streaming is rarely found in primary schools today.

3 The report also lists the schools that were visited as part


4 OFSTED is a non-ministerial government department established

under the Education (Schools) Act 1992 to take responsibility for the

inspection of all schools in England. Its staff include Her

Majesty's Inspectors (HMI), who draw on inspection evidence to report

on a practice in schools and on a wide range of educational issues.

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