Setting, streaming, banding compulsion
4 Sept 2014
While the Guardian reported this week that the new Education Secretary (she's called Nicky Morgan, by the way) had "cleared with Downing Street" a new policy of compulsory setting in secondary schools, the BBC today reports that she is denying any such policy.
So Morgan's eagerly anticipated first ripples have still not arrived at the shore.
You can see the attraction for a tory minister, especially one with no background in education (she was privately educated) - setting is a notion designed to appeal to traditionalists and for middle class voters using the state system it's a great way of shoring up the class structure (if you put a leftist slant on it).
It's an age-old argument, but one normally confined to individual schools or departments rather than being seen as a national policy. With good reason - ask teachers whether setting is a good or a bad idea and everyone will give you a different perspective. Typically, you'll get (for example) maths teachers supporting it, but English teachers preferring mixed ability teaching.
The over-riding barrier to making setting a national policy though, is the sheer unfeasibiliy of it. Schools don't have enough staff, specialist teaching rooms, periods in the day - and so on - to setting any more than they do already. Furthermore, settting in one subject often has an impact on other subjects timetabled opposite i,t unless the whole year group is taught in at the same time in each subject: again, impractical.
A typical compromise is to split the year in half and band within that, but that really is a compromise: there's a very wide range of ability within any one band. This also makes it much more difficult for students to rise through the bands. However, schools which use this system generally seem happy with it, and it's very common.
Anyway the arguments for and against setting are played out frequently within schools - and this is entirely appropriate. A national policy would be as unwelcome as it is unfeasible: something which, if the Guardian and the BBC are to be believed, Mrs Morgan has, this week, realised.
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