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Articles > Student Life February, 01, 2016

Sets In School Suck – And Here’s Why

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‘Setting’ involves putting the ‘most intelligent’ students into top set, and those who need ‘a little bit of support’ in middle and bottom sets. It’s something we are all too familiar with, we just accept our sets and get on with it… but should we?

Photo by Joe Phlintham

Photo by Joe Flintham

We’ve learned to just assume that teachers know what’s best for us but have they actually got it wrong this time? I feel like the set system puts students into separate ‘herds’ for the duration of the year… And that’s not right.

Here’s my opinion: students should be put in groups of mixed academic levels.

I think students should be in mixed groups, as it helps them learn, prevents elitism from staff, and encourages friendships not based on academic ability.

I believe that by being surrounded by people with different levels of intellect, and working with them, it helps students learn new things and may also allow them to assist the less able ones, thereby improving the class for these pupils as well.

In my view, a Utopian education system in Year Ten and Eleven involves the mixing of sets, not the complete isolation of them from each other.

The division of students also encourages staff not to expend as much effort on the lower sets. For instance, one time I (along with some other top-set students) got called to a presentation where the teachers called us “the cream of the coffee,” and offered us a variety of opportunities simply for being ‘smart.’ Now when my friends, who were not part of this “cream” found this out, you could literally see the disappointment on their faces.

These students, who worked so hard for their grades, who also wanted to get involved in opportunities to enhance their skills, were neglected like they weren’t even there. When I saw that reaction from my friends, I felt confused – should I be happy about all the opportunities I was offered, or feel bad about how my friends were ignored?

Why would you give the best opportunities to particular people, just because they’re doing better in some subjects? Why would a good educational system ignore the students who want to utilise these opportunities and trips in order to enhance their skills?

These sets also create a sort of mental boundary between students. For example, during group activities outside of lessons, I must admit that I used to depend more on the people of the higher sets to help with the work and marginalised the people who were in lower sets.

Immediately this set boundaries, causing people to view and treat certain students in different ways. This needs to be changed. The mixed-set GCSE education system I explained above is something that can be easily achieved: it may not seem like a big thing, but I truly believe it is.

Once you’re in a set, people think you’re either smart or dumb like it’s a part of your personality – even in the eyes of some teachers. You are stamped with this title until you finish your GCSEs, with the pupils in top sets feeling pressured by high expectations of them and pupils in the bottom sets feeling that they can never be as clever as the others.

So all in all, it’s simple. Sets suck – let’s scrap them!

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