In the Guardian: Bedales Science teaching

Posted on 23rd November 2017

In an article for The Guardian, Bedales Head of Science Emily Seeber discusses the merits of mixed ability classes, and explains their introduction by the Bedales Science department.

Teaching mixed ability classes is unpopular and against the trend. A team from University College London recently attempted to investigate mixed attainment classes, but found it so uncommon that they were forced to abandon the full trial. Schools are unwilling to embrace the model, which is perceived as risky and unconventional. Teachers and senior leaders often believe it takes more planning and that ‘setting’ is expected by parents.

Indeed, sets are so deeply rooted in the language and concept of English education that rejecting it is considered rather bold – for maths and science in particular – in stark contrast to other parts of the world. Mixed attainment grouping is common in high achieving educational systems such as Finland, Japan and Canada, and there is growing evidence, too, that setting or streaming can have a negative overall effect on student outcomes for lower and middle attainers.

Emily says: “The Science department at Bedales School moved away from setting in 2016. All of our classes, from year nine to year 13, are now mixed attainment. At first, there was much apprehension from colleagues and parents, and we wondered if we were doing the right thing for high attainers. But for us the important question was whether more students would benefit as a result, and we agreed that they would.”

A year on, there are still some teachers who worry that they’re unable to move on to the new content they usually cover with a top set. But ideas are changing about how teachers ensure that every student is intellectually stimulated, supported by evidence that learning extra content is not the only way to stretch the most able. Staff have also found that they don’t need more resources for different groups of students, just an alternative approach.

Emily concludes: “All students should feel involved in the conversation, although individuals may be working on different aspects of the task we’ve set. It’s been challenging, but the effect on students has been positive, and there’s much more of a ‘can do’ attitude to learning than I’ve ever seen before, and it’s marvellous.”

The full article is available here.

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