Equity and Quality in Education – Part 2

Here’s the Guardian’s take on the new OECD report on equity and quality in education which we highlighted yesterday:

Dividing younger pupils by ability can entrench disadvantage, study finds

OECD study finds countries that stream pupils into ability groups at an early age tend to have lower levels of achievement


by Jessica Shepherd

Thousands of UK primary schools are locking their pupils into a cycle of disadvantage by separating them into ability groups, a major international study has warned.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based thinktank, analysed successes and failures in education systems in 39 of the world’s most developed nations.

It found that countries that divided pupils into ability groups at an early age tended to have higher numbers of school drop-outs and lower levels of achievement.

In the UK one in six pupils are divided according to their academic ability by the age of seven, according to a study conducted last year by the London University’s Institute of Education.

Beatriz Pont, an education analyst and one of the authors of the OECD’s study, said streaming by ability at an early age “fuelled a vicious cycle” in which teachers had low expectations of students in the lowest sets.

These students were often “locked into a lower educational environment before they had a chance to develop … their potential,” she said.

Her study – Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools – found the most experienced and capable teachers often taught pupils in the highest sets.

Streaming by ability “exacerbates inequities” because immigrants and pupils from low-income families are more likely to be placed in low-ability groups, she said.

The UK and the US had the joint highest proportion of pupils in schools that divide according to ability at 99% each. Countries, such as Finland, that are well-known for their high-performing education systems, had a far lower proportion – 58%.

Almost a fifth – 18% – of 25 to 34-year-olds in the UK did not complete the last years of secondary school. In Canada, the US and Germany, the figures were 8%, 12% and 14% respectively.

Pont said that countries should strive to make academic and vocational courses equivalent. The study recommends countries improve their education systems by stopping pupils from re-taking a year, eliminating setting by ability and allocating funding according to students needs.

Comments please. Not least on the fact that almost a fifth of pupils in the UK “did not complete the last years of secondary school”. What is it about secondary education in this country that makes so many pupils dislike it so much they refuse to go to school? How many more dislike school but somehow carry on due to teacher pressure and parental pressure? How can we enable more pupils to positively enjoy school? What do the best schools actually do to foster enjoyment of school?

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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2 Responses to Equity and Quality in Education – Part 2

  1. Nina says:

    It is quite simple, actually. Take a look on the school values (the actual ones, not the ones posted online or printed in the brochure) . Does this school emphasize teaching or learning?

    There is common confusion about teaching and learning being the two sides of the same coin. This is not true. Teaching and learning are two separate processes that sometimes occur in the same physical space (classroom).

    If teaching is emphasized, students are often given the secondary role in their own learning. Following the rules and meeting the standards is more valued than learning. And then we wonder why students dislike school or drop out? Really? As for dividing students according their academic abilities – well, are we not creating self-fulfilling prophecies by doing that?

    When we focus on learning (instead of teaching) the situation changes: students become accountable for their own learning, and teacher becomes the facilitator of students’ learning. This may sound complicated, but it actually is not. It just takes away most of the unnecessary power struggles in the classroom.

    The one key for good teaching is the teacher’s desire to empower her/his students to learn autonomously. Ultimately this makes the teacher become unnecessary, but usually not before students are leaving the school anyway. This way they will be extremely well equipped for life, too, which, I think, is the basic idea of having public education systems.


    • 3deye says:

      Many thanks for your comments, Nina. 3Di is a great admirer of the Finnish system of education. We agree entirely about enabling children to become self-directed, autonomous, lifelong learners who enjoy school and more importantly enjoy learning.


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