Student allocation to maths sets not always based on previous achievement

Research into grouping by achievement, by academics from Queen’s University Belfast and University College London, has found that nearly a third of students in England were allocated to higher or lower maths sets than their previous test performance implied.

The study, published in the British Educational Research Journal, analysed data from 9,301 Year 7 students at 46 secondary schools in England. The researchers compared which maths set the students would have been put in – based on Key Stage 2 maths test scores – with the sets they were actually placed in. Overall, they found that 31.1% of students were misallocated – placed in sets that were either higher or lower than their results at the end of primary school would have indicated.

Boys were slightly more likely to be misallocated to higher sets in maths (16.7%) than lower sets (13.0%), whereas girls were more likely to be misallocated to lower sets (17.9%) than higher sets (14.7%). Other findings showed that:

  • Black students were 2.4 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Asian students were 1.7 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Female students were 1.53 times more likely than males to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • White students were 2.09 times more likely than black students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • White students were 1.72 times more likely than Asian students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • Male students were 1.32 times more likely than females to be misallocated to a higher maths set.

Source: The misallocation of students to academic sets in maths: A study of secondary schools in England (June 2019) British Educational Research Journal

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