This study is a ‘School Choices’ project. Instead of examining a programme delivered in schools, it examines differences in practice between schools. This particular project, aimed to understand whether within class grouping teaching (either same-attainment or mixed-attainment grouping) is associated with higher (or lower) mathematics achievement compared to whole-class teaching in Year 2, Year 5 and Year 9.
Evidence around the impact of within-class grouping approaches on attainment is scarce, particularly for secondary school aged pupils. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit strand on “Within Class Attainment Grouping” describes the evidence as “limited” and little research compares within-class attainment grouping to alternative approaches (such as mixed attainment grouping), other than whole class teaching.
There is also little information on the practises and approaches used in English schools, such as how often pupils are taught as a whole class or in mixed or same attainment groups. This study focuses on within-class grouping approaches compared to whole class teaching, it does not make comparisons between ability grouping within and between classrooms.
This study did not find that any single approach to attainment grouping or whole class teaching was associated with higher academic outcomes than any of the others. It may be that teachers use the approach (or a combination of approaches) that is most comfortable (and effective) for them and their pupils.
Within class grouping seemed to have an association to increased mathematics attainment for Year 2 pupils from low-income background, however this was not reflected in reading attainment and enjoyment of working with numbers (the secondary outcomes of this study). Similarly, disadvantaged or low-achieving Year 9 students that received whole-class teaching seemed to experience a faster improvement in their mathematics achievement. The evidence for this finding remains weak but suggests that further research around grouping practices in mathematics may be worthwhile.
This study was a secondary data analysis that used available data collected as part of the Millennium Cohort Study (for Year 2 pupils) and the 2015 round of the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Unlike the trials that EEF often funds, the study does not seek to establish whether grouping “caused” differences in attainment. Instead, is examines whether there was an association between practices and results. There may be other explanations for differences in outcomes between pupils
- The is no evidence of an association between within-class attainment grouping and Year 2 children’s mathematics test scores.
- There is no evidence that the frequency of using any of the teaching approaches (same-attainment groups, mixed-attainment groups, or using a whole-class approach) is associated with higher mathematics achievement amongst Year 5 or Year 9 pupils (that is, none of the approaches were found to be superior to the others.
- There is little evidence that the frequency of using different teaching approaches (whole-class teaching, within-class same-attainment grouping, or within-class mixed-attainment grouping) is associated with Year 5 and Year 9 pupils’ self-confidence in their mathematics abilities.