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The Tripartite system


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There is a very interesting article on selection in schools in todays Guardian.

As someone teaching in Kent (one of the few LEAs in the UK who still resolutely refuse to live in any other decade than the 1950's), I found this article relevant.

My views on selection were posted last year in a school history forum seminar (reproduced below).

I wonder what others think about this issue??

Working essentially in a small pocket of the 1950’s (Kent where the Tripartite system still prevails), ones views are inevitably somewhat colored by a system that is quite clearly failing all levels of ability in the county. The pattern across the county is for “coasting” grammar schools with very narrow traditionally academic approaches to be glorified as paragons of virtue, and for single sex secondary moderns to struggle along without the resources or money to make a difference. Kent has a disproportionate number of schools that are really struggling and yet the commitment to a discredited selective system remains as strong as ever. Despite Ofsted’s apparent love affair with the county's grammars, it is clear that much more could be done with the able students they cream off.

Labeling in such an environment is very real. My own school (non-selective girls) borders the local girls grammar sharing fences, entrances, and in some cases barbed wire and anti vandal paint! . Girls who pass the 11+ wear green uniforms and girls who fail wear brown. Thus a child’s basic IQ is communicated publicly to all by clothes she wears…. One can only imagine the extent of the negative effect on self-esteem and aspiration such a daily reminder can have and I trust that many will be duly horrified that such practices still exist. Remarkably it is also common practice for secondary modern schools to further set and band their students. The bottom set of the bottom school must be quite a dreadful place to be!

The purpose of this paper however is not to berate Kent for its archaic and discredited approach to education. Rather it is to discuss the issues of selection streaming, banding and setting in our schools and the possible negative or positive effects such practices have on the children we teach. The views of the author are clearly that selection is a wholly negative thing and it is hoped that an interesting and lively debate will ensue on the forum. As this is such a vast area of debate I will merely post a number of introductory discussion points below.

I am treating the broad issue of selection by ability to encompass the continuing tripartite system, and streaming and banding in comprehension schools

Arguments for selection, streaming and banding

1. Certain subjects are “hard” and would be impossible to teach successfully in a mixed ability environment

2. The needs of the majority are met in setted groups – differentiation is easier to achieve and prove.

3. Children are different and require different approaches. Some children are academically gifted and require specialist help; others require a more basic skills approach.

4. Mixed ability grouping holds the best students back

Arguments against selection, streaming and banding

1. Setting is only easier for teachers but has no measurable, provable benefit for students at either end.

2. Teacher “labels” become self fulfilling prophecies. Top sets are expected to perform better and do, bottom sets are expected to perform badly and often to behave badly and do so.

3. There is a predominance of working class children in bottom sets and non-selective schools who therefore do not can access to “higher” academic knowledge and skills. Selection, streaming, banding and setting therefore perpetuate the existing class structure and limit the opportunities of working class children

4. Equal opportunities issues (see point 3)

5. Teacher’s low expectations of bottom sets and secondary modern pupils result in less preparation and effort on the part of the teacher.

6. Mixed ability groups in comprehensive schools are important in the social development of children and the progressive development of society

7. IQ testing is outmoded and discredited and a totally unfair way to determine a child’s future and prospects

8. Selection and streaming is deeply damaging to a child’s self esteem

Is selection still a reality in other countries??

Are there any other "Kentish" schools, secondary modern or otherwise willing to speak out??


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