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Teaching Methods

Volume 475: debated on Friday 9 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families if he will place in the Library (a) the latest data obtained by Ofsted on the extent of setting in schools, broken down by subject, age and pupil and (b) a copy of his Department’s guidance on setting. (202069)

HM Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert has written to the hon. Member with regard to Ofsted’s latest data on setting. A copy of her reply has been placed in the Library. I have placed in the Library a copy of the Department’s guidance on pupil grouping, ‘Grouping Pupils for Success’, and the two pieces of independent research, commissioned by the Department, on which this guidance is based: ‘Pupil Grouping Strategies and Practices at Key Stage 2 and 3’ (published September 2006) and ‘Effective Teaching and Learning for Pupils in Low Attaining Groups’ (published September 2007).

‘Grouping Pupils for Success’ can be accessed at

‘Pupil Grouping Strategies and Practices at Key Stage 2 and 3’ can be accessed at

‘Effective Teaching and Learning for Pupils in Low Attaining Groups’ can be accessed at

Letter from Christine Gilbert, dated 30 April 2008:

Your recent parliamentary question has been passed to me, as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, for a response to part (a). The Department for Children, Schools and Families will respond separately to part (b).

Our current data do not enable us to count or estimate how many lessons in England are set by ability. The attached tables show the data Ofsted has on the proportion of lessons observed during inspections carried out in the academic year 2006/07, by subject, phase of education and year. Inspectors record whether classes are setted, streamed or banded, as one category, or are mixed ability in composition. A third category is used for lessons in which other forms of grouping are used. When a lesson observed is setted, streamed or banded by ability, a note is made of the ability level of the class concerned.

The data are based on the use of setting, streaming or banding in lessons observed during inspection. Some explanation of these figures may be helpful. Since September 2005, the recording of class organisation has been based either on discussions with the head teacher or teacher by reference to the lesson plan at the time of observation. A much smaller number of lessons is observed than would have been seen under the previous inspection framework. Lessons seen may therefore not represent pupil grouping in the school as a whole.

For clarity, setting is the term used to describe the organisation of pupils in classes on the basis of their prior attainment in the particular subject being taught. The term banding, which is very similar to streaming, is used when the decision as to which pupils are included in a class is based on the prior attainment in a range of subjects. Ofsted does not differentiate between setting, streaming and banding in the data collected during lesson observations.

A copy of this reply has been sent to Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, and will be placed in the Library of both Houses.