Teaching Methods

Children, Schools and Families written question – answered on 21st July 2009.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what percentage of classes in (a) primary and (b) secondary schools were set by ability at the most recent date for which figures are available.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

This is a matter for Ofsted. HM Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, has written to the hon. Member and a copy of her reply has been placed in the House Libraries.

Letter from Christine Gilbert, dated 16 July 2009:

Your recent parliamentary question has been passed to me, as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, for a response.

Table A shows the data Ofsted holds on the use of setting, streaming or banding in lessons observed during inspections carried out in the academic year 2007/08. Inspectors record whether classes are in sets, streamed or banded (as one category), mixed ability or grouped by criteria other than ability.

Table A: All lessons observed during Ofsted inspections 2007/08, by lesson grouping
Percentage of lessons observed
School phase Mixed ability Setted, streamed or banded Other
Primary schools (including middle deemed primary) 85 14 2
Secondary schools (including middle deemed secondary, academies and city technology colleges) 54 45 1

These figures include all lessons, not just national curriculum subjects, in years 1 to 6 (primary) and 7 to 11 (secondary).

Please note that these data do not enable us to estimate how many classes in England are set by ability. Since the introduction of the current school inspection framework in September 2005 (commonly known as section 5), the recording of how lessons are organised has been based on discussions with the headteacher or teacher during the inspection, or by reference to the lesson plan at the time of observation. A much smaller number of lessons are observed than would have been seen under the previous inspection framework. Lessons seen may not, therefore, represent the way pupils are grouped in the school as a whole.

For clarity, setting is the term used to describe the organisation of pupils in classes on the basis of their prior attainment in the particular subject being taught. The term banding, which is similar to streaming, is used when the decision as to which pupils are included in a class is based on the prior attainment in a range of subjects. Ofsted does not currently differentiate between setting, streaming and banding in the data collected during lesson observations.

It is of some concern to me that we do not have ready access to a comprehensive data set about pupil groupings. As a consequence, from September, headteachers have been asked to record the detail of the pupil groupings in use in their schools in their Self-Evaluation Forms.

A copy of this reply has been sent to Vernon Coaker MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, and will be placed in the library of both Houses.

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