Grouping Students By Abilities Fosters Dependence and Caps Opportunities for Learning Interview with:
“Classroom” by frankjuarez is licensed under CC BY 2.0Dr Anna Mazenod

Institute of Education
University of London
UK What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In this paper we report baseline findings from a large study of grouping practices in state-funded secondary schools in England. The study seeks to improve our understanding of how students are grouped for their English and mathematics classes, and the potential impact of different grouping practices on student outcomes and experiences of schooling. This paper draws on a survey of 597 teachers and 34 teacher interviews in schools where students are grouped by their attainment for the subject. It focuses on teacher perspectives on teaching and learning in the lower attainment groups.

We found that students in the lower attainment groups were typically constructed as learners who benefit from specific approaches to learning justified through discourses of nurturing and protection. Most teachers felt that students in the lower attainment groups were not able to access learning independently from their teachers in comparison with their peers in the higher attainment groups. Some teachers for example described students in the lower attainment groups as ‘more dependent on people’ and students in the higher attainment groups as ‘independent learners.’ What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The adoption of different pedagogical approaches for lower attainment groups in order to nurture the students may in some cases be fostering dependency on teachers and cap opportunities for more independent learning. As independent learning is a key skill for students to make the most of their continuing education, it is important to support all students in enhancing independence in their learning, regardless of their level of attainment. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: Future research examining grouping practices and pedagogy should consider how students are being supported to become more independent in their learning as this is important in enabling access to ongoing learning opportunities. International comparative research could also enhance our understanding of how different educational and cultural contexts may impact on grouping practices and pedagogy. Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Response: The study is funded by the Education Endowment Foundation. The study is led by Professor Becky Francis, UCL Institute of Education. For more information and other papers from the study see 


Anna Mazenod, Becky Francis, Louise Archer, Jeremy Hodgen, Becky Taylor, Antonina Tereshchenko, David Pepper. Nurturing learning or encouraging dependency? Teacher constructions of students in lower attainment groups in English secondary schools. Cambridge Journal of Education, 2018; 1 DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2018.1441372 

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Last Updated on March 27, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD