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

Francis, Becky; Archer, Lousie; Hodgen, Jeremy; Pepper, David; Taylor, Becky; Travers, Mary-Clare

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Authors

Becky Francis

Lousie Archer

Jeremy Hodgen

David Pepper

Becky Taylor

Mary-Clare Travers



Abstract

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.

Citation

Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Pepper, D., Taylor, B., & Travers, M. (2016). Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability grouping’ in England: a discourse analytic account. Cambridge Journal of Education, 47(1), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2015.1093095

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Jan 4, 2016
Publication Date Jan 4, 2016
Deposit Date Mar 30, 2016
Publicly Available Date Mar 30, 2016
Journal Cambridge Journal of Education
Print ISSN 0305-764X
Electronic ISSN 1469-3577
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 47
Issue 1
Pages 1-17
DOI https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2015.1093095
Keywords Ability grouping, setting, streaming, mixed-ability grouping, social class, discourse, impact
Public URL https://nottingham-repository.worktribe.com/output/773785
Publisher URL http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0305764X.2015.1093095
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

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