Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability grouping’ in England: a discourse analytic account

Francis, Becky and Archer, Lousie and Hodgen, Jeremy and Pepper, David and Taylor, Becky and Travers, Mary-Clare (2016) Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability grouping’ in England: a discourse analytic account. Cambridge Journal of Education . ISSN 1469-3577

[img] PDF - Repository staff only until 4 July 2017. - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (748kB)


Grouping students by ‘ability’ is a topic of long-standing contention in English education policy, research and practice. While policy-makers have frequently advocated the practice as reflecting educational ‘standards’, research has consistently failed to find significant benefits of ‘ability’ grouping; and indeed has identified disadvantages for some (low-attaining) pupil groups. However, this research evidence has apparently failed to impact on practice in England. This article, contextualised by the authors’ interests in education and social inequality, seeks to do two things. First, it provides a brief analysis of the existing research evidence on the impact of ‘ability’ grouping, with particular reference to socio-economic inequality, identifying seven different explanations for the poorer progress of pupils in low sets that emerge from the literature. Second, it applies Foucaultian ‘analysis of discourse’ to propose potential explanations for the apparent lack of traction of existing research with policy and practice, arguing that practices of ‘ability grouping’ reflect cultural investments in discourses of ‘natural order’ and hierarchy, with particular resonance for the discursive and political habitus of middle-class parents. The authors postulate that investing in a powerful counter-discourse of enlightenment science, illustrated via their current randomised control trial of different approaches to pupil grouping, may offer a means to challenge hegemonic discourses that underpin current classroom practice.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Cambridge Journal of Education on 4 Jan 2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/0305764X.2015.1093095
Keywords: Ability grouping, setting, streaming, mixed-ability grouping, social class, discourse, impact
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham UK Campus > Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Education
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2015.1093095
Depositing User: Collier, Elanor
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2016 09:59
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2016 12:47
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/32554

Actions (Archive Staff Only)

Edit View Edit View