Teaching Groups and the Timetable
The curriculum is timetabled in a ten day cycle of 50, one hour lessons. The timetable cycle is comprised of Weeks 1 and 2. The current week number can be seen on the school calendar.
Every year group also has a daily Learning for Life session.
At The Howard, we take a balanced approach to grouping students based on what we think works best for different year groups and in different subjects.
Students joining in Year 7 will be in their tutor group (a mixed ability group) for most of their lessons. We feel this enables them to settle in to the school effectively, and move around the school with the same group of people. The exceptions to this are Maths and PE. In Maths, students are assessed when they join the school (we don’t rely on the KS2 scores) and from October half term are then placed into sets across two tiers, called express and core. Around half the year are in each tier and classes are mixed ability within each tier. These sets are selected based on who we think students will learn best with, given their current level of knowledge and understanding. At KS3 we often find students arrive with vastly different experiences of Mathematics from primary school, so once they have settled in they are then separated into sets, to allow them to develop at the appropriate pace for them. This also reflects the tiered system for mathematics examinations. Students are also set in PE. This allows students to access sport at a level which is appropriate for them, and ensures that there can be a real focus on enjoyment and participation.
In years 8 and 9, this mixed approach continues, with students set in PE and Maths but otherwise in mixed ability groups. In English, the opportunity for a variety of viewpoints, opinions and approaches can be enormously beneficial. We also feel that students benefit from being in mixed ability groups in science at KS3, where they can thrive on an enjoyment of the subject and an engagement in practical activities and experiments.
Once students reach KS4, setting continues in Maths and PE, and is introduced in Science and English. This reflects partly the tiers of entry (students will take their GCSE exam at either foundation or higher level for Science / Maths), but also a focus on ensuring that students can achieve the best possible grade for them in their final exam. Other ‘options’ subjects are mixed ability: partly because the timetable does not allow these groups to be set in the same way as core subjects, and partly because option subjects lend themselves to a mixed ability approach.
All KS5 groups are mixed ability.
Wherever groups are mixed ability at the Howard, teachers are expected to take an ‘Adaptive Teaching’ approach to ensure that all students in the class are supported and challenged to achieve. The Inclusion Team are responsible for providing additional in class support for those students who may require it as a consequence of SEND.
Where groups are set, movement between groups is possible and determined by attitude to work and general progress. These are constantly monitored through continuous assessments, regular assessment, end-of-year examinations and a diagnostic review of the progress of all students.
Mixed ability grouping: the Pedagogy
Mixed ability grouping is the system of education where students with different proficiencies and abilities are grouped on the same level. Mixed-ability grouping allows students the room to grow socially, emotionally, and academically.
Mixed ability groups promote a growth mindset culture, where making mistakes is viewed as an important part of the learning process. It encourages resilience and ambition in learners and removes the stress of being in a higher set, or the stigma of being in a lower set. It also gives students the opportunity to work collaboratively with classmates who might have different skills from them – and this ability to work collaboratively will stand them in good stead later on in life, as well as improving their social and emotional intelligence.
Although there are some challenges and drawbacks with mixed ability teaching, the impact of these can be minimised through effective planning by the teachers. The teaching approach can be adapted to create more opportunities for collaborative and independent learning. Consequently, this type of student-led learning gives learners the opportunity to develop skills such as critical thinking, research, and communication. The teachers at the Howard make time to know their classes and plan activities to ensure that we bring out the best in all.
Although the research on groupings in educational settings is varied, the overall conclusion seems to be that learning in mixed ability groups leads to higher performance for the vast majority of students, and a healthier emotional environment, with less stress and fewer self-esteem issues for all students.
“Finland is an often referred to example of education excellence, with consistently high levels of attainment in numeracy and literacy. In Finnish schools, streaming is banned. Educational equality is the primary driver behind education policy, and all classes are mixed level. Interestingly, that has led to one of the most highly educated populations in the world.” (Pearson, 2022)
Tutor groups (or 'Form' groups) are mixed ability groups.
Teaching Groups in Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9)
In Year 7, students are taught in tutor groups for all subjects except Mathematics and Languages, in Mathematics students are set during the first term. As students move into Year 8 and 9, they are taught in mixed ability groups for the majority of their subjects. Students in Mathematics continue to be taught in sets.
Teaching Groups in Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11)
From the start of Year 10 students are grouped by ability in English, maths and science and core PE. All other groups are mixed ability.
Teaching Groups in the Sixth Form
Sixth Form teaching groups are typically mixed ability.