Ditch classroom streaming, researcher says

TINA LAW
Last updated 15:35 01/05/2013

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Separating schoolchildren into classes based on their ability is ineffective and detrimental to pupils' education, research has found.

Most intermediate and secondary schools in Canterbury and across New Zealand put children in classes based on their capability, but University of Canterbury researcher Professor Garry Hornby is calling for schools to ditch the practice.

Children, particularly those in lower-ability classes, tended to give up and stop believing they could achieve, he said.

"Kids in these low streams give up very early on. We're just wasting so much talent in New Zealand by using this system."

He said his research from 15 secondary schools and 11 intermediate schools in Canterbury backed international research on the issue.

All but two of the Canterbury schools used some form of streaming, and they reported few substantial benefits but identified a range of disadvantages, including low self-esteem and increased behavioural problems among pupils, he said.

"It's just so frustrating to me. We have masses of research evidence showing these things, but schools are still sticking to what they've done traditionally."

He said there were some advantages for talented pupils and those with special needs, but none was identified for average pupils, Maori or Pacific Island pupils or those with English as a second language.

Hornby said schools needed to be courageous, reconsider streaming and adopt more effective strategies.

"We're hanging on to something in terms of tradition that is not supported by the research evidence," he said.

Hornby High School principal Richard Edmundson said the school had long grouped pupils in classes based on their abilities.

He said the system worked well, but that did not mean it could not be done better.

He welcomed Hornby's research and said now was the time for schools to take a serious look at their structures, given the changes after the earthquakes.

Riccarton High School principal Phil Holstein said the school was constantly looking at how it grouped pupils into classes and had this year spread some of the lower-performing pupils across more classes.

He said that if changes were to be made they would have to start at primary and intermediate level because pupils went to high school already grouped, and parents had an expectation their children would continue to be streamed at secondary school.

Heaton Normal Intermediate principal Andrea Knight said the school had three classes at each year level for more able pupils and the remaining six classes at each level were mixed ability.

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She said the method worked at the school and was something the parents were keen on.

"We do find it works for us. We have no reason to change it," she said.

Parent Pam Hamilton-Currey, who has three boys, said she was in favour of children being put in classes with peers of similar abilities.

"I just think that those kids in the middle will miss out with such a range of abilities in a classroom," she said.

- The Press

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