Plain English Summary
Background and study aims
The subject of grouping school students based on their ability in academic subjects such as English and math is widely debated. Recent studies have shown that for children who have a record of low attainment at school previously, being taught in mixed ability groups can help them to progress better with their schoolwork. This initial study aims to find out whether teaching English and mathematics in in mixed attainment groups has an impact on attainment and self-confidence in these subjects. The study is also designed to test whether a larger trial testing this aim would be feasible.
Who can participate?
Secondary schools which currently (or are willing to) practice mixed ability grouping for English and/or math in years 7 and 8.
What does the study involve?
Included schools are randomly allocated into two groups. English and mathematics teachers at the schools included in the first group (intervention group) attend six intensive workshops as well as additional coaching in the school, in order to support teachers to support pupils and teach more effectively. Schools allocated to the second group (control group) continue with their student grouping practices as normal. After two years, pupils from all schools will take English and mathematics tests to find out if their level of attainment has changed compared to at the start of the study.
What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
There are no direct benefits of participating, however students may benefit in the long run as this research will increase knowledge on education policies in England. There are no foreseeable risks of participating.
Where is the study run from?
National Foundation for Educational Research, Slough (UK)
When is the study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
March 2015 to November 2017
Who is funding the study?
Education Endowment Foundation (UK)
Who is the main contact?
Dr Ben Styles
Dr Ben Styles
National Foundation for Educational Research
+44 (0)1753 637386
Pilot randomised controlled trial to explore the use of mixed attainment grouping of year 7 and 8 students within English and mathematics
The primary research questions are:
1. Can secondary schools be recruited to a mixed attainment RCT?
2. What are the barriers to schools adopting a mixed attainment approach?
In addition, students will be tested to ensure that mixed attainment grouping does not result in a significant drop in attainment in mathematics and/or English. Pupil surveys will also be administered to measure self-confidence in mathematics and English.
National Foundation for Educational Research Code of Practice Committee, 05/03/2015
Multi-centre pilot cluster randomised controlled trial
Primary study design
Secondary study design
Cluster randomised trial
Quality of life
Patient information sheet
Attainment in Math and English in schools
This pilot trial will include two experimental groups: 20 Secondary schools will be randomly allocated to one of the two groups. For all schools, key stage 2 results will be used as baseline test data and GL assessment’s English and mathematics tests will be used as follow-up tests at the end of year 8, where a random sample of 60 pupils will be selected from each school.
Intervention group: The application of the intervention will involve presentation and application of the key pedagogic principles such as principles to be applied in grouping pupils and principles to be applied across groups. This will be facilitated by at least six intensive workshops attended by each key teacher in the pilot study, with additional coaching/critical friend support in school. These workshops will outline and justify the principles to be applied; and provide time, space and guidance for Year 7 mathematics and English teachers to design appropriate grouping approaches, support to pupils, and curriculum, for application of the principles in their own school context.
Control group: Schools from this group will continue with their student grouping practices as usual. Once they have completed the year 8 tests at the end of the trial, they will receive £1,000.
Primary outcome measure
While this is not a fully powered trial, testing will take place in year 8 after two years of the intervention to ensure that mixed attainment grouping does not result in a significant drop in attainment in mathematics and/or English. A random sample of 60 pupils from year 8 will sit these tests in summer 2017. Their key stage 2 test results from academic year 2014-15 will be used to measure attainment at baseline.
Secondary outcome measures
Secondary outcome measures for this study are pupils’ self confidence in English and mathematics. These will be measured using a pupil survey at the start of year 7 in September 2015 and at the end of year 8 in summer 2017.
Overall trial start date
Overall trial end date
Reason abandoned (if study stopped)
Participant inclusion criteria
1. State secondary schools in England that currently practice mixed attainment grouping
2. State secondary schools in England willing to change their practice to mixed attainment grouping for English and/or maths in years 7 and 8
Target number of participants
wenty Secondary schools will be randomly allocated to one of the two groups. The grouping practices will be applied to Year7 with an average cohort size of 180 pupils per school making it a total of 3,600 pupils involved in the study.
Participant exclusion criteria
Participants not fulfilling inclusion criteria.
Recruitment start date
Recruitment end date
Countries of recruitment
Trial participating centre
National Foundation for Educational Research
The Mere Upton Park
Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)
Funding Body Type
Funding Body Subtype
Results and Publications
Publication and dissemination plan
Education Endowment Foundation will publish a report on the results of the study.
Intention to publish date
Participant level data
Stored in repository
Basic results (scientific)