English pupils more segregated by ability than almost every other country, research finds

Janet Downs's picture
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Pupils in England are more segregated by ability than almost every other country in the world, analysis by John Jerrim, Education DataLab, shows.

Separating pupils by ability is done in different ways.   Some countries, Germany, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland, ‘track’ children into different schools depending on their level of achievement.  Some English local authorities, such as Kent and Lincolnshire, still select at age 11.

Others use ‘within-school ability grouping’: setting, streaming or seating arrangements.

Using data from two international pupil tests – TIMSS and PISA – Jerrim analysed the within-school use of setting/streaming and seating arrangements based on achievement.  The results were ‘stark’:

England particularly stands out in terms of setting/streaming, which is now used for maths in almost half of Year 5 classes and in almost every secondary school.’

There are also ‘much higher rates of within-school ability segregation than in other developed countries.’

Does it matter? Jerrim asks.  The answer is a resounding Yes.  Citing analysis by the Education Endowment Foundation, Jerrim points out that such in-school separation does not benefit  pupil achievement.  Segregation by achievement has a particularly negative effect on low-achieving, disadvantaged pupils who are dumped (sorry, placed together) in bottom sets.

It also matters because the issue of selection has moved up the political agenda.  One of Theresa May’s first policy announcement was about increasing the number of grammar schools in England.   The present Prime Minister is in favour.

Yet research after research highlights the negative effects of selection.  Jerrim’s analysis confirms these findings.

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