Mixed-attainment grouping: the pilot school experience

Pilot Schools Session at KCLBy Dr Becky Taylor, Researcher Practitioner

From September 2014 to July 2015, before we started our randomised controlled trials, the Best Practice in Grouping Students team spent a pilot year working with schools and preparing for the main study. We were delighted to have six brilliant schools on board – three schools that practise setting in Year 7 and three schools that practise mixed-attainment grouping.

The pilot year of the project does not contribute to the final evaluation of grouping practices, based on our randomised controlled trials, which will be reported in January 2018. However, our pilot schools played a vital role, helping us devise the professional development materials and research instruments that we are now using with the schools participating in our main study.

At the end of the year we invited the pilot school teachers to join us at King’s for a celebration and they were kind enough to share some of their thoughts from the year with us. In this blog post, we are sharing some of the reflections made by teachers from the mixed-attainment grouping pilot schools:

‘So many students come to secondary school believing they are ‘bad at maths’; mixed ability gives them a fresh start and a chance to change that mindset.’

‘It’s fantastic to see the students supporting each other, learning together and making progress together.’

The comments above come from schools and departments where mixed-attainment teaching is well-established. One of our pilot schools did make the change from setting to mixed-attainment in Year 7 maths last year and they were delighted with what they found:

‘All students mimic the behaviour of high-attaining students.’

‘There is a reduction in the anxiety of learning maths.’

‘I noticed an improvement in independent learning behaviour compared to my previously set Year 7.’

‘[There are] exciting light bulb moments in class that emerge due to [having] no cap on what students are expected to learn or achieve.’

That is not to say that it was easy. Mixed-attainment teaching was new to most of the maths teachers at the school, so they needed time to develop confidence with teaching a broad range of attainment in each group and to design appropriate resources. On top of this, students and their parents asked when they were going to be put into sets. However, the head of department reported that by the end of the year, the teachers ‘love it and comment on the benefits of learning!’

We are now preparing for our next professional development meetings with project schools, taking place over the next few weeks – it will be really exciting to catch up with teachers and hear how they are getting on.