Education Secretary Nicky Morgan forced to deny plans to separate schoolchildren by ability

 

Education Editor

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has denied she is planning to force all secondary schools into introducing ability groups.

This has appeared to cause confusion in Government circles with officials refusing to confirm or deny the story.

According to the Guardian’s website, she was said to be asking education standards watchdog Ofsted to make it a condition of a school receiving an outstanding ranking in an inspection, an idea that sparked fury from teachers’ leaders and opposition MPs.

Teachers argued the move was contrary to the Government’s oft-repeated mantra that schools should be given more freedom from central control.

In addition, they pointed to research which indicated that in schools which introduce setting, the gap between high performers and those who struggle grows.

Tonight, though, Ms Morgan dismissed the suggestion, saying there was “absolutely no truth” in suggestions that Ofsted would be asked to promote setting. Downing Street said it knew of no plans to introduce the policy while the Liberal Democrats insisted it would not become part of government policy while there were involved with the Coalition.

One suggestion circulating in Whitehall - unconfirmed - was that plans to promote setting would form part of the Conservative party manifesto.

The leak failed to indicate what would happen to an outstanding academy given the freedom to conduct its own affairs if it failed to introduce setting.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “If Nicky Morgan is committed to closing the gap for disadvantaged children the last thing she should do is to divide children into ability sets and use Ofsted to enforce this.

“This is educationally unjustifiable. The evidence is overwhelming that this practice holds back poor children, denying them access to an appropriately demanding curriculum. Any claim that Ofsted is independent of government ideology will be shot to pieces if the agency is required to enforce ministerial dogma.”

Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, demanded “urgent assurances” the plan “would not put a cap on aspiration and confine some children to a second rate education”.

“I believe excellent heads and great teachers know better than Westminster politicians how to deliver the best schooling for all pupils. It is worrying to see an Education Secretary two months into the job thinking she knows best how every school should teach every subject,” he added.

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt (Getty)
Both the leading head teachers’ organisations, the National Association of Head Teachers and Association of School and College Leaders, came out against the idea.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “Are we really to be faced with a scenario where a school with outstanding attainment and progress is denied a top grade simply on the basis that classes aren’t organised according to a rigid national edict?”

Setting in schools, which means dividing children by ability in each subject, has long had its advocates in political circles. Tony Blair called for more setting in schools during the 1997 election campaign, and Prime Minister David Cameron has let it be known he is strongly in favour of it, as is Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief schools inspector, who believes all-ability teaching is too difficult for some teachers to handle.

However, research from the Education Endowment Foundation concluded that, overall, grouping in sets appears to benefit higher attainers but can be detrimental to the learning of mid-range or lower achievers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee