One in six pupils streamed aged seven - survey

Girls in playground Girls are often put in higher streams than boys at a young age

Related Stories

One in six children is being streamed by ability by the age of seven, according to research by the Institute of Education.

The researchers found boys were more likely to be placed in the bottom stream than girls.

They also found children born in the autumn are statistically more likely to be in the top classes than those with birthdays in spring or summer.

Ethnicity is not linked to stream placement, the researchers suggest.

'Limited movement opportunities'

Professor Susan Hallam, the research project's leader, said: "Given the current emphasis on social mobility it is surprising that so many children are streamed at such a young age.

"We know that once in a stream the opportunities for movement to another stream are limited so life chances are being determined at a very early age."

She drew the distinction between setting - where children in mixed ability classes are grouped for different subjects according to their level in that particular discipline - and streaming, where pupils are placed into different classes on the basis of a judgement about their overall academic ability.

Report author Professor Susan Hallam: "Children and their parents and teachers have lower expectations of those who are in streams"

Prof Hallam described streaming as a "blunt instrument" which she thought had "pretty much died out".

She said it could lower parents', teachers' and children's own expectations, which could then become "self-fulfilling prophesies".

But she did acknowledge it made teaching easier.

Former chief inspector of schools Sir Chris Woodhead said he was surprised and delighted schools were streaming children again.

"It seems to me that streaming is rather a good thing," he told the BBC's Today programme.

"The narrower the spread of abilities in the class, the more effective the teaching can be.

"If you have got children who can hardly read and children reading Lord of the Rings at the top end of primary school, then you have got a very tough job trying to challenge the most able and support the least able."

Child poverty

This Institute of Education report, based on information from 8,875 children, said one in six children in the UK was placed in ability classes by the age of seven.

In Wales, one in five (19.5%) is assigned a stream at an early age while the figure is 17% in England, 16% in Scotland and 11% in Northern Ireland, it said.

Children in larger, mixed-sex, non-faith, non-fee paying schools were more likely to be in streams than pupils in small, independent, single-sex or faith schools, the researchers said.

"Children at schools with mixed-year groups and those attending larger primary schools were more likely to be streamed than their peers in smaller primary schools," says the report.

"Particular groups were found to be over-represented in certain streams. Children in the bottom stream had experienced more consistent poverty and were more likely to have behavioural problems and mothers with fewer qualifications," it added.

"Girls were over-represented in the middle streams, boys in the bottom stream. Autumn-born children were over-represented in the top stream, summer-born in the middle and bottom streams."

The children are included in the Millennium Cohort Study, which is managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education.

A more extensive analysis of the data will be presented to the British Educational Research Association Conference in September.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    I was shoved in remedial streams & spend most of my 20's convinced that I was very intelectually challenged. I simply missed most of the detail I really should have been tought just because I was slower than the rest of the class. I returned to school & am now working for a FG500. My parents and friends pushed me through, but I have never recovered from the belief that I am a lower performer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    At school I was in the top set for Science and Maths, but was in the special needs group for English lessons because I had great difficulty with reading and writing. If I had been streamed at school I don't think I would have received the support I needed it in English but still had the challenges of higher sets in Maths and Science. Children have mixed skills and streaming does not address that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Ever since my son started school at just 4 (he is now 10) he has used terms like "I'm in the bottom set" or "the set that doesn't know anything". He & his peers are all very aware of where they & everyone else is academically. It's heartbreaking to listen to him telling me that he is rubbish & encouragement from me will not change his mind because "he would be in higher groups if it were true!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    All through lower secondary school I felt sorry for my teachers. My class ranged from me (who went on to Oxford) to a girl with Down Syndrome and two boys with severe dyslexia as well as 25 other kids in between. How could they give us all the appropriate level of attention and teaching ? Streaming challenges the able, supports the less able and ensures those in the middle don't get forgotten.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I was educated in an average comprehensive (Ofsted 3) and made it into Oxford to read law. This was only possible because I was streamed from an early age. In geography we were not streamed and I sat next to a mate who is not academic and left at 16. Neither of us learnt a thing; he was not interested and we went at a snails pace. The teacher had an impossible task. Who benefitted from that?


Comments 5 of 8


More Education & Family stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.