On starting secondary school aged eleven, my friend’s daughter was assigned to one of four sets in all subjects based on her scores on the Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) and Cognitive Abilities Tests (CATs) she had taken at the end of primary school.  The sets were named after the grades predicted for the children in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) to be taken aged 16 as A* to A, A* to B, A to C and C. A-C were the only grades that counted in national school league tables at the time. The bottom set of C really means F or fail since if the children were really expected to get a C grade they would have been placed in the third set. Such practice is abusive, without recognition of teachers and children’s capacity for changing their education trajectories. It also defines education as a grade grind, a ‘Gradgrind’, rather than an expansion of life interests and possibilities. It is reminiscent of the ability branding of children at Crown Woods College in London, with children assigned into three mini-schools on the basis of their initial tests with different uniforms, and break times, perhaps so that those perceived to be stuck with ‘low ability’ cannot contaminate those seen to be of ‘high ability’.

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