Why is it difficult for schools to establish equitable practices in allocating students to attainment ‘sets’?

Becky Taylor, Becky Francis, Nicole Craig, Louise Archer, Jeremy Hodgen, Anna Mazenod, Antonina Tereschenko, David Pepper

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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Research has consistently shown ‘ability’ grouping (tracking) to be prey to poor
practice, and to perpetuate inequity. A feature of these problems is inequitable and inaccurate practice in allocation to groups or ‘tracks’. Yet little research has examined whether such practices might be improved. Here, we examine survey and interview findings from a large-scale intervention study of grouping practices in 126 English secondary schools. We find that when schools are encouraged to allocate students and move them between groups according to equitable principles by participation in a ‘best practice’ intervention, there is some increased equity of practice, i.e. a reduction in non-attainment factors used in allocation. However, the majority of schools continue to use subjective and potentially biased information to group students. Furthermore, some
schools that claim to be using attainment setting appear to be using the inequitable practice of streaming. Our findings show that improvements in equity are constrained by operational and strategic factors, including timetabling, finance and teachers’ values and beliefs relating to student ability and progression. We suggest strategies for encouraging schools to change their grouping practices, drawing on approaches for working with complex organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Studies
Early online date16 Jan 2018
Publication statusEarly online date - 16 Jan 2018


  • attainment grouping; setting; English secondary schools; equity


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