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PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:18 am 
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I'd like to understand how the set system works in mixed ability classes and wondered if someone involved in primary teaching or otherwise knowledgeable in these things could help.

Children obviously start primary school with a range of abilities in maths and english. Those born early in the school year also have an age advantage, perhaps starting school a term earlier. As a result children who have already had a lot of tution and / or are older will naturally end up in the top set.

The top set get more challenging work than the middle and bottom sets, so maintain their lead over their peers. Quite probably (as they started school with a higher level of knowledge) they also have continuing help outside of school, further cementing their position in the top set.

What I'd like to know is how could a child who is equally as bright as those in the top sets, but who starts school with less knowledge than his peers (perhaps also being one of the youngest in the class), rise to the top set solely from the teaching they receive in the bottom or middle sets?

If the answer to this is yes, then by what school year would this typically be expected to happen.

Thanks


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:35 am 
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Is this a question about a state primary school, mushroom, or an indie?

The practice of setting children in Reception is not widespread as far as I am aware, thank heavens; and I don't know any schools near us who do it before Year 3. At my DC's school it is very fluid and children move in and out of sets most terms; but at an indie I know rather well it was based, erroneously in my view, on CATs scores and nothing, but nothing, would get a child moved. In my very humble opinion, it doesn't matter which set they are in at primary school until Year 5 or even Year 6; and I wouldn't be very confident myself of assessing a child's future potential until that point. Many children are late developers and as you rightly state, birthday is vitally important, especially for boys. The ones with real problems will usually stand out by then, though might still be just about chugging along, but you wouldn't necessarily have all your top ones sorted by then, though the increasingly comprehensive and exhaustive assessment tools open to/forced on teachers does make precise levels easier to judge. In case you don't know my views, I am opposed to children even being at school when they are 4, so you can imagine what I think of them having received 'extra help' in literacy and maths by that point. As children get older, natural ability becomes more important than maturity, which plays such a part in the early days (though according to some studies, it never goes away completely). "Knowledge" as such is not really what setting is about - it is usually based on understanding and skills mastered, or on the ability to acquire them at the same rate as the rest of the set. What I have observed over many years in education is that often the bright little sparks showing off their reading skills in Reception because parents have taught them, or even because they have picked it all up very quickly, are rarely the same ones who are outshining everyone else by the time they get to secondary school.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2010 1:58 pm 
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Thanks Amber, query was in relation to a state primary.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:07 pm 
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i think it can depend on the childs own motivation. Some children are really motivated to get to top set even without help from home - or next set up so they will work quickly, finish the work from their set and ask for more etc. Another child may be happy to crusie and not put in much effort. You would hope the teacher may realise this and push them more but often they have so many dc's to deal with they literally wont have the time.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2010 8:24 pm 
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In my dds state primary they were put in sets in year 1 but there was a lot of movement during the year, and not just for academic reasons (sometimes children were moved because they couldnt sit together due to bad behaviour etc.) My daughter started in second set then was moved to third set back to second set then when she moved to Y2 she was put in top set where she has remained since (she is now in Y3) there is still movement between sets. In her school the top two groups do just about the same work but I think more is expected of the top set, this does make movement quite easy, and I think the children are very aware that they could easily move down a set if they take their foot off the pedal!!! I think we have to trust that the teachers are astute enough to spot the bright kids whether they manifest themselves in Y1, Y2 or later on in their school career. As a teacher myself I think it is quite easy to "separate the wheat from the chaff" when you get to know the class but it sometimes takes a bit longer than we parents would like


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:23 pm 
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Sets in any primary I have taught in tend to be very fluid and relaxed.

Summer born boys do often take a while to catch up, but not always and as I now teach top end primary it's interesting during staff discussions to hear KS1 teachers saying they knew x or y would take off. Good KS1 teachers are good at spotting natural ability and those that have been taught skills before school.

Mushroom said
The top set get more challenging work than the middle and bottom sets, so maintain their lead over their peers. Quite probably (as they started school with a higher level of knowledge) they also have continuing help outside of school, further cementing their position in the top set.

I don't see any evidence of this - all pupils in my class have access to challenges. Eg. The top group have maths with larger or smaller numbers, but if middle or bottom group pupils finish their work they also go onto the extension challenge. The top reading group has a more complex text to read, but middle and bottom groups can also be extended through questioning.


Like Amber I am not a fan of formal teaching at a young age and preschool reading is one of my pet hates (although I acknowledge some exceptional children do teach themselves to read), because rather than foster a love of books and reading it often does the opposite.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2010 12:00 am 
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Location: Chelmsford and pleased
Children develop and make progress at different rates. Some read, happily, from a very young age, others take a little longer. Either way, we would hope that the individual child would be considered by the teacher, rather than the whole class needs being assessed and those at either end being ignored.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2010 7:50 am 
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Those with parental support will always achieve more. This can be as simple as listening to reading regularly and taking an interest in their child. Bright children without this basic support will probably struggle more, unless they are highly motivated as said in an earlier post.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2010 11:34 am 
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pheasantchick wrote:
Those with parental support will always achieve more. This can be as simple as listening to reading regularly and taking an interest in their child. Bright children without this basic support will probably struggle more, unless they are highly motivated as said in an earlier post.

I agree - i think that the brightish child who is not motivated to achieve - maybe because this needs to come from home or is just part of childs personality - will sometimes be left by teacher to cruise in middle set, rather than being pushed in top set.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 22, 2010 9:40 pm 
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Every reply I do to this one disappears into the ether. Every school differs, but I consider that at some schools it would be impossible to progress to the top set without help. The gulf just widens because of the ways some schools differentiate the work given to each set. And at some schools if they do not predict a level 3 for your child at KS1, they see it as an extremely unlikely event that your child would achieve 5s at KS2, so it can all become a self-fulfilling prophecy as they prepare them with the material for level 4s. You will find that the majority of the "bright" children in the top set at this sort of school are the Autumn birthdays.

Probably not what you wanted to hear, nor what many of you are experiencing at your children's primary schools ....... but that's probably because the majority of you have bright children who made it into the top set, or your schools are more flexible than this disaster scenario I am describing at some schools.


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