It is not possible to fulfil our professional commitment to treating all young people fairly and to giving them all the best possible start in life as long as practices such as school organisation, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment continue

 It is not possible to fulfil our professional commitment to treating all young people fairly and to giving them all the best possible start in life as long as practices such as school organisation, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment continue to be

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    It is not possible to fulfil our professional commitment to treating all young people fairly and to giving them all the best possible start in life as long as practices such as school organisation, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment continue to be permeated by ability labelling.   The debate surrounding the value of ability labelling, where a learner's educational  position is determined by previous assessments and attainment, has existed since the very beginning of educational philosophy, albeit under a variety names. Plato claimed that those who were more able should have their intellect honed so that they can one day  become a member of the ruling class,whereas John Locke claimed that all men were  born equal as a tabula rasa with a mind that could be filled with knowledge from experience and education. However, the debate is also a modern concern, demonstrated  by the wide range of academic literature into the impact of ability grouping on a learner's attainment, identity, and future. Furthermore, OFSTED are now condemning mixed-ability grouping, where learners are organised to suit timetabling, space, and teacher allocation requirements rather than attainment or ability, claiming that “Too often the curriculum [in a satisfactory school] was a ‘one size fits all’ model which did not meet the needs of all the pupils. ”( Getting to Good  , 2012, 4) whilst stating one of the features of outstanding teaching is “[...]understand the needs and abilities of each child, and there is no ‘teaching to the middle’ of mixed ability groups. Teachers have high expectations of all pupils. Lessons move along at a brisk pace. Pupils don’t just do the same thing all the time.” (The Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education- Children's Services and Schools, 2012, 21). These comments, alongside Sir Michael Wilshaw's comment that mixed- ability  groupings are a “curse” for most able students have been picked up by the media and are informing the lay-public's perception of the teaching profession, demonstrating that ability labelling, setting and mixed ability groupings are a contemporary concern to teaching. For the purposes of this essay I shall critically evaluate studies by Younger & Warrington (2005), Younger and Warrington (2006), Ireson & Hallam (1999), Boaler, William & Brown (2000), and Ireson & Hallam (2006) to explore the problems and the values of ability labelling and whether it helps or hinders inclusivity in schools. I have chosen these studies because they all investigate sex as a factor in how ability labelling and grouping impacts on a learner's attainment and success, an idea that is important in light of experience gained from my PP1 school, a comprehensive academy for 11-18 year olds, that elected to divided the most able learners into sexed sets for key stage four English, leaving able and less able students in mixed sexed sets. This division was not extended throughout the whole of the school, thus offers an interesting study in ability labelling and grouping as a whole-school phenomenon. I will argue that the organisational structure of schools will always hinder some learner's education because ability labelling impacts on self-esteem, identity, friendship groups, and learning by creating a hierarchy, whereas mixed ability classes cannot cater for the diverse range of individuals and their needs, even through the effective use of differentiation. In order to make this argument I will question whether ability grouping is good for all student's learning, who does ability grouping benefit as well as investigating the preoccupation of improving boy's attainment and the other factors within ability grouping that impact on attainment.    Is ability grouping good for all?  The benefits and pitfalls of ability grouping have been investigated and documented (Hallam & Ireson 2006, Boaler et al, 2000). Both studies investigate how learners feel about school organisation and what impact this can have on their learning. Hallam and Ireson 2006 used a large sample of 5000 students from 45 comprehensive schools across England to determine that 62% of the students questioned preferred ability grouping, 24% preferred mixed-ability grouping, 2% preferred an “unspecified other”, whereas the remaining 7% did not know (587). In contrast, Boaler et al 2000 found in their longitudinal study of 943 students in 6 schools in the Greater London area that students across all ability groups were disadvantaged by this method of organisation claiming that “significant numbers of students experienced difficulties at the pace of the particular set in which they were  placed”, whether it was too fast or too slow (633) and the students in schools where ability grouping was used were “significantly disadvantaged” in their learning (633). It is worth noting that “significant” is not quantified in this study. In both studies the researchers focused on key stage three students. This means that the results have a basis for comparison because they deal with the same year group. However, this is where the similarities end. Hallam and Ireson's sample of students is approximately 80% larger than Boaler et al and used 45 schools compared to Boaler et al 6. In addition, Hallam and Ireson used schools from all over England whereas Boaler et  al focused on schools in Greater London. This means that Hallam and Ireson's study is likely to be more representative because it offers a wider data field. However, this does not necessarily mean that it holds more authority that Boaler et al on the topic of ability labelling and grouping because Boaler et al study uses a variety of data gathering methods. Boaler et al deployed mass questionnaires to 943 students, used semi-structured interviews with 72 students, and drew on approximately 120 hours of classroom observation to arrive at their conclusion. This triangulation of data means that the data gained is likely to hold validity because it includes easily comparable data from the questionnaire, development from the interviews and examples from the classroom observation. Furthermore, the use of semi-structured interviews means that the researcher can ask questions to ascertain how ability grouping and labelling makes the  participant feel an gain verstehen which is fitting for the research question. Despite the two studies having different outcomes – Hallam and Ireson's study states the majority of learners found ability grouping beneficial, whereas Boaler et al study found that it disadvantaged many of the students – the studies both make it apparent that ability labelling and grouping does not benefit everyone and that it is not suited to all leaners. For this assignment I spoke to learners in key stage four who had been organised by ability grouping. When I spoke to those in lower ability groups for the core subjects (english, maths, and science) I asked whether they felt they were in the right group. Many said that they felt like others in the group were slowing them down, and gave examples such as class-reading in English where less able readers found the text too complicated, and in science where experiments and practicals had to be completed at the slowest speed to ensure that everyone completed the task correctly. In response to this, I  asked whether there was anything that they could do to complete the experiment quicker such as help those who were less able: the answer was a resounding no. The learners said that they did not feel that they were in a position to help their peers because they too were in a low set. I found this very concerning because it suggests that learners are questioning their own ability and the value that they add to the classroom because of  being set in a low group. These findings are similar to Boaler et al because they show that ability grouping can create an inequality that, in turn, impacts on a learner's education. This indicates that some learners are being disadvantaged by ability labelling. The next section will investigate the type of learner that benefits from ability labelling and grouping. Who does ability grouping benefit?  As previously discussed, there is no method of organisation that aides every learner's education. This section will serve to investigate the literature by Hallam & Ireson 2000 and Boaler et al, 2000, discuss their findings, and compare these findings to experiences in my PP1 school.   Hallam and Ireson found that the majority of students questioned (62%) preferred ability grouping to mixed ability setting, but conceded that the results depended on “set  placement, type of school, socio-economic status and sex” (583). Hallam and Ireson note that those in bottom sets were more likely to prefer mixed ability grouping whilst 79% of those in top sets preferred ability grouping (589-90). However, because of the research method used, Hallam and Ireson suggest no reason why this may be the case. It is worth noting that the closest that the researchers get to finding out why the learner's response is based on their ability label is through the open question that “[invited them
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