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Let’s get rid of ‘average’
While ‘average’ may be a good way to describe the middle group of children, when you look at each individual child you will discover that no child is ‘average’
Every child has a gift, every child has something special about them. It could be their sense of humour, their confidence, their wit, their ability to empathise, ability to focus, their creativity, entrepreneurship or even their leadership ability.
The problem is not that children are average, the problem is that many children think they are ‘average’ and therefore, they are only able to achieve ‘average’ results.
It doesn’t help that most secondary schools in Britain use a setting systems where pupils are set based on their attainment in previous tests and examinations. This means that pupils in set 1 feel re-assured that they are clever, pupils in set 2 and 3 think that they are ‘average’ and pupils in set 4 and below feel that they are just not good enough!
Research has shown that setting can be very helpful for pupils in the higher sets as it increases confidence and encourages a competitive attitude to learning. However, research has also shown that setting can be extremely damaging for pupils in the lower sets. Yet, this system still exists in many schools.
For many pupils, setting can feel like a glass ceiling.
Imagine if you started a new entry level job and you really wanted to be promoted to a manager but you knew that the only way to move up to the management team would be if someone from the management team moved down to do your entry level job. Such is the way with setting in schools.
Set 1 is usually filled to the brim with 30 students working towards A/A* grades. Many of the pupils in set 2 or below and all pupils then end up feeling that they would have to physically work their way through the sets if they ever wanted to get an A or A*.
It is no wonder that pupils in the lower attaining groups often feel helpless or wonder if it’s worth the stress. Being placed in Set 2 or below can be a constant reminder that no matter how hard they try, they will never be good enough to pass through the glass ceiling.
So what can be done about this?
For the foreseeable future, it seems that most comprehensive schools will stick to the setting system. However, we believe that all is not lost for pupils that feel that they are average.
Through the mentoring and enrichment programme, we have been able to help pupils understand that with the right attitude and the right strategy, pupils can get top grades in pretty much any subject.
We know that many pupils from middle sets are still able to achieve top grades provided that they are given the right amount of support and the first step in moving away from average grades is to understand that top grades are attainable and that no child is ‘average’.