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Secondary school teachers' attitudes to and beliefs about ability grouping

By Susan Hallam and Judith Ireson


Background. Internationally and historically considerable research has been undertaken regarding the attitudes of secondary school teachers towards different types of ability grouping. There has been no recent research taking account of the changing educational context in the UK. Aims. This paper aims to explore secondary school teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about ability grouping taking account of school type, gender, experience and qualifications. Sample. The sample comprised over 1500 teachers from 45 schools divided into three groups based on their ability grouping practices in years 7-9. The sample included all the lower school teachers of mathematics, science and English and a random sample of teachers from other subjects in each school. Methods. Teachers responded to a questionnaire which explored their attitudes towards ability grouping through the use of rating scales and open ended questions. Results. The findings showed that the teachers’ beliefs broadly reflected research findings on the actual effects of ability grouping, although there were significant 3 differences relating to the type of school they taught in and the subject that they taught. Separate analysis of school types showed that length of time teaching, individual school differences and teacher qualifications were also significant predictors of attitudes. Conclusions. Teachers’ beliefs about ability grouping are influenced by the type of groupings adopted in the school where they work, the subject that they teach, their experience and qualifications. As pedagogical practices are known to be influenced by beliefs these findings have important implications for teacher training

Year: 2003
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