Many thanks to Mark Parrott for permission to post this assignment
from his MA course, for which he received a distinction.There is very little research into the effects of setting in modern languages in the UK. I know of one study in a school that found better progress in setted than unsetted classes in the first term of French, and there is tangential evidence of rapid progress in fast track groups - invariably the equivalent of top sets - though in most cases the full benefits were not realised as the pupils dropped the language immediately after the examination.
This study of setting at the beginning of Year 10 is therefore particularly valuable. Its discussion of the arguments for and against setting is a good introduction to the debate, and, in a key decision, Mark took the lower set himself, thus countering the common argument that lower sets get poorer teachers. The lower set had a slower pace of work, giving more time for explanation and consolidation, and made a far greater improvement on its performance in Year 9 than the top set did. There are, of course, more questions to be answered, and I am particularly concerned at the negative effects of mixed ability teaching in Years 7 to 9, but this is an excellent start and I recommend the study to everyone interested in the issue.