Setting and within-class ability grouping: A survey of practices in physical education

Abstract

Within the United Kingdom and internationally, the practice of separating pupils by ability endures

as a characteristic feature of mathematics and science classrooms. Although there is extensive

international research literature on ability grouping within classroom-based subjects, limited

research exists in the context of physical education (PE). The purpose of this paper is to explore

ability grouping in PE in North East of England schools. Specifically, the paper examined the pre-
valence of setting and within-class ability grouping in PE, the contexts of its use, how sets and

within-class ability grouping were established, and the rationales used to justify decisions about

setting and within-class ability grouping in the subject. Data were collected via a web-based survey.

The electronic survey was sent to 194 PE Heads of Department from North East of England

schools catering for pupils in Key Stage 3 (ages 11–14) and/or Key Stage 4 (ages 14–16). The results

indicated that setting is embedded in the organisational and pedagogical practices of PE in many

secondary schools. Ability also served as a basis upon which to organise pupils within mixed-ability

and setted PE lessons. A variety of other factors, including friendship and behaviour, were also

reported as factors influencing grouping of pupils in PE lessons. Our discussion directs attention to

issues arising for policy and practice in PE and points to the merits of further exploration and

analysis of between-class and within-class grouping practices in the subject.

 

Shaun Wilkinson

Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, Northumbria University, UK

Dawn Penney

Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia

Linda Allin

Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, Northumbria University, UK

Corresponding author:

Shaun Wilkinson, Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1

8ST, UK.

Email: [email protected]

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