Although setting can be useful in certain cases, I do not think that it should be compulsory in schools. Setting can work well when it is done in each subject individually as students can be good in Maths for example and not have a great ability in Languages.
Setting can work in favour of high ability students but can often be detrimental to those who are in lower sets, as they perceive this as being put in a sink bin.
Pupils who are in mixed ability groups can often thrive. For example, students who struggle can be helped by high achievers. From a social point of view, setting can also lead to a kind of segregation and labelling of students which can be unethical.
I strongly believe that the decision to set pupils should be left to schools, e.g. subject leaders, subject teachers who always know who they teach best or to Head Teachers.
As a teacher who has taught in a whole range of schools in England, I have seen setting work but I have also witnessed some major issues, particularly with lower achievers who are often left to struggle, underperform and end up being frustrated and being put off their Education.
Another side of the argument in favour of setting would be that it makes it easier for the teacher who does not have to differentiate so much in the planning and delivery of lessons.
If we look at other European countries, such as France and Spain, setting is illegal in state schools as it is seen as unethical and counterproductive.
Politicians often get it wrong when it comes to implementing and enforcing educational policies. Imposing a compulsory setting system to every single school in England and Wales, would lead to yet another wave of discontent, frustration and anger among teaching professionals.
Instead of setting pupils according to their ability, we should be thinking about introducing resitting an academic year as they already have in most countries around the world.
When a pupil struggles academically, it makes no educational sense for him or her to automatically go to the superior class. It creates an excessively wide array of pupils’ levels and standards in the classroom which becomes a total nightmare in some cases for teachers to handle. It also leads to permanent damage in pupils’ education as they never manage to catch up. Such a system is called “redoublement” in France, where pupils who do not reach a certain level have to resit their academic year, having to work harder to reach an appropriate standard before they are allowed to go to the corresponding higher class. It makes perfect sense as it enables a better standardisation of levels.
The logic of such a system is to enable pupils to reach a decent standard which will equip them with the ability to make progress when they go to their corresponding higher classes.
We currently have far too many students who come to secondary schools from primary and who are lacking in fundamental skills, such as basic literacy and numeracy skills which should have already been acquired at primary school.
This “redoublement” is also a good incentive for pupils to work hard in order not to be left behind and have to repeat their class and it also cuts down on discipline problems in schools as underachievement often leads to disruption.
As a conclusion, I would say that setting can work in certain contexts if it is done efficiently but it should never become compulsory. Every school has its different policies, goals, needs and understanding of pupils and it should not be left to bureaucrats to impose a system which is not a panacea. However, resitting an academic year should be seen as a very good alternative to this chaotic system we currently have where some pupils often go through their Education without being able to read, write and count properly even when they reach their final years.