Education Matters: Why Higher and Lower Abilities Just Don't Work Well Together; NEVER MIND THE BULLOCK

The Birmingham Post (England), November 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

Education Matters: Why Higher and Lower Abilities Just Don't Work Well Together; NEVER MIND THE BULLOCK


Byline: Plain speaking from ex-teacher Brenda Bullock

Back in May, in my usual column in The Post, I wrote about the poor deal that children of lower ability get at the moment in our schools.

I deplored the fact that, in the headlong rush to push up the numbers of pupils gaining five good GCSE passes, lower ability children were, at best, ignored and at worst treated like "punishment" classes for teachers; taught by the incompetent teachers the school didn't want let loose on their best GCSE students or by an army of temporary supply teachers.

Now I read that a new report has taken this deplorable state of affairs, this parody of a setting-by-ability regime, as proof that setting by ability doesn't work.

One might almost believe that the practice of giving the best teachers the best sets and letting the lower ability children go hang was deliberately thought up by the devotees of mixed ability teaching in order to make sure that setting by ability failed to produce the right results: as it stands now the system certainly has failure built into it.

One can hardly expect to have a proper appraisal of whether teaching in sets of like ability works until all sets get the same high quality staff and the "egalitarians" acknowledge that all children do not have the same talents and aptitudes and therefore need different strategies to ensure they fulfil their potential, whatever it is.

Until we stream pupils according to ability we can never have different syllabuses to cater for the whole gamut of ability throughout the school. We have to accept that while the very top students will be doing calculus and trigonometry in maths many others of the same age may well not have yet mastered the basics of numeracy and to consider teaching them in the same class would be madness. What we need is teachers who are willing to lavish the same attention on the bottom as on the top: teachers who insist on children working and making progress, however modest that progress might turn out to beIn spite of assertions to the contrary, made by people who seem never to have set foot in a classroom, the idea of putting all abilities in the same big class, with just one teacher to cope with them all and get all children to thrive, is a ridiculous myth. …

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