Home | In The Classroom | Health+Wellbeing | Vic primary schools move away from ability grouping
Northcote Primary School has said it will scrap ability grouping. Picture: NCA Newswire/Ellen Smith

Vic primary schools move away from ability grouping

Victorian primary schools are moving away from streaming students according to ability amid fears it is doing more harm than good, and is damaging to students self-esteem and wellbeing.

Northcote Primary School in Melbourne's inner city is leading the way, with parents recently told that the school is "undertaking a shift away from ability grouping, more specifically, streaming students based on perceived academic performance".

“Beyond purely academic considerations, we are mindful of the social and emotional effects associated with streaming, particularly in primary schools,” principal Shaun Wells said.

“These effects encompass the negative impact on students’ self-concept, confidence, resilience, and motivation.”

Mr Wells said the response from the school community has been positive.

Although a state government position statement on ability grouping recognises the practice leads to higher education outcomes for high-achieving students, it also notes it can cause disengagement and feelings of shame and failure in low-achieving students.

Ability grouping can also sometimes be deleterious for high-achieving students, causing anxiety over the pace of instruction, a overly competitive learning environment, and fear of failure, it says.

Grouping students on the basis of ability occurs most often in maths, with students having to choose between four Year 12 subjects of varying difficulty: foundation, general, methods and specialist.

Jennifer Bowden, chief executive of the Mathematical Association of Victoria, said her organisation supported the government’s approach.

“Streaming across different classes has negative effects and low gains,” she said.

“It is better to have differences of ability within a topic or area and have groupings that are random or socially based.

“It makes sense. Often students might be placed in the ‘wombat’ group and feel they don’t have a chance to get out of the burrow, knowing those placed in the ‘kangaroo’ group will have the opportunity to bound ahead.

"Those students in the wombat group are going to feel quite negatively towards maths."

Opposition education spokeswoman Jess Wilson said that “supporting students with different abilities to meet their full potential must be a focus of our education system”.

“Ensuring that students who need additional learning support can access it, while students who are excelling academically can continue to be challenged, must be part of how we design our teaching and learning approaches.”

However, senior fellow at the Australian Catholic University Kevin Donnelly said it was important to leave it up to the school community to decide.

He said streaming “is generally a good thing in middle and senior schools as it makes the teaching easier”.

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *