Streaming, Setting, Banding or Mixed-Ability Teaching

Streaming is a radical model of school organization where children are placed into groups according to their ability and stay in these for most of their lessons. Setting occurs when children are placed in different groups for a particular subject, according to their ability in that subject, e.g. top, middle and lower set. Banding is similar to setting but children tend not to be so narrowly grouped. If children are not placed in streams, sets or bands, then they’re taught in mixed-ability classes.

Knowledge bank

  • As a classroom teacher you’ll probably have little choice over whether your learners arrive at your lessons in streams, sets, bands or as mixed-ability groups – this is a decision that school or subject leaders tend to take.
  • Despite usually having little choice over the ability groupings of your learners, it has major implications for your teaching.
  • There are many myths that surround the issue of ability groupings in schools, and it’s vital to adopt an open but critical stance to anything that you hear or read about the subject.
  • The essential truth is that there is as yet no convincing research evidence to back up the claim that in general learners learn more effectively in one type of ability grouping over another – be wary of anybody who speaks in terms of absolutes in this highly complex area of teaching and learning.
  • The research studies that have been carried out tend to point out the positive and negative aspects of the different approaches, but provide conflicting data on just which grouping method is most appropriate for the majority of learners.
  • Whether learners are streamed, placed in sets or banded the result is that learners will learn within a class with a much narrower ability profile than if they were in a mixed-ability class.
  • It’s likely that individual learners do benefit from being placed in a particular kind of ability grouping. There’s evidence to suggest that bright girls may benefit from working in a top set alongside similar learners, but that weaker boys gain advantage from mixing with higher-ability learners as part of mixed-ability classes.
  • Effective mixed-ability teaching is, however, extremely demanding of a teacher and is sure to really keep you on your toes!

Ask yourself

  • Reflect on how the learners you teach are currently grouped -what challenges does this bring?
  • How can you build on the advantages that this type of grouping brings and address the disadvantages?
  • What are your learners’ views on the value of particular grouping arrangements?

To do list

  • Consider gaining some experience of working in a classroom which has a different grouping arrangement to your own (e.g. through observation, a placement or collaborative project) – this will be enriching, will help widen your teaching repertoire and will make you a more rounded teacher, also enhancing your promotion prospects.
  • Experiment teaching small groups of learners arranged by ability within mixed-ability classes (e.g. blue table for more able learners, red table less able etc.).
  • Read critically on the topic of ability groupings in order to come to your own view on what is appropriate for your school.

Author: Shawn

3 Responses to “Streaming, Setting, Banding or Mixed-Ability Teaching”

  1. mannoula says:


  2. theanimaster says:

    So according to this, streaming is like having class ‘sections’ … much like form classes, and setting is placing pupils into groups within these sections.

    That leaves ‘banding’, defined here as similar to ‘setting’ but less narrow.


    A little more definition is needed please!! Examples would be MUCH appreciated too!

  3. theanimaster says:

    Or perhaps it can be this:

    Streaming — a section of students of mixed abilities. They are ‘streamed’ in the sense they are all of the same age group, and this particular section has been assigned a form teacher who looks after them.

    Banding — from this section, some students break off into electives in either: visual arts, science or languages. So we have three bands.

    Setting — in each band, some students work better than others, so we can divide them up according to sets.

    Am I understanding this all right?

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