Should we be using ability-grouping in primary schools? What are children’s experiences of being grouped?

Good Morning everyone!

Today on The Critical Blog we have a post for you from one of authors Rachel Marks. Her book ‘Ability-Grouping in Primary Schools‘ is officially out tomorrow and in preparation Rachel shares with us what issues surround the use of ability-grouping in primary schools.

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When six year-old Jayden tells me he is “a moped” so he “can’t do this work”, surely we should be questioning the ability grouping practices and labels we use in primary schools, how children experience these practices, and the implications for their current and future learning.

There has been considerable research into the use of ability grouping in schools. Although this research tells us that ability grouping does not raise attainment and may have negative impacts on attitudes, the use of ability grouping is actually increasing in primary schools with children being grouped sometimes from the age of four. The evidence we have is not having an impact in schools. This is particularly concerning in the primary school environment where it appears that the increase in ability grouping is imposing secondary practices into primary schools; primary teachers are losing their traditional roles, and the pastoral support available to children – some who may rely on school for such support – is being marginalised.

The tenacity of ability-grouping is complex. Practices go unquestioned because they seem right. We go home from school and watch Britain’s Got Talent; of course some people (or animals!) have talent and some people don’t, whether that be dog agility, juggling, or the more traditional school subjects of maths and languages. English culture gives us no reason to question ideas of ability and talent and school practices are then built on these ideas. Having used ability grouping myself as a teacher and later engaging with the research and having to question some very deeply held beliefs, I wrote this book – Ability Grouping in Primary Schools: Case Studies and Critical Debates – to give trainees and teachers the space they need to reflect on their language and practices. What do we really mean when we talk about a child having ‘high ability’? What are the impacts of segregating children on the basis of ability?

This book takes a different approach to many texts; using a case study approach, the debates are illustrated through children’s voices. Who better to explain how ability-grouping is really experienced (which the book reveals is often different from the teachers’ intentions) than the children at the centre of such practices?

The book is intended to be highly accessible using the language of primary schools that teachers and trainees will identify with. It is written in such a way that it could be read cover-to-cover or dipped into when time allows. Equally at home on an academic’s shelf or a staffroom coffee table, it is hoped that it will provide a catalyst for trainees and practicing teachers to question long held beliefs and practices with the final chapter introducing various alternatives to current practice.

For more details and a FREE SAMPLE of this book then go to our website where ALL titles are currently 15% OFF.

Otherwise please feel free to message in with any questions for us or for Rachel at

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