Parental education is one factor of family background that affects a child’s success and is seen to also link to whether a child is a low or high attainers in school as ‘more educated parents have, on average, better educated children’ (Ermisch, 2010). Better education meaning they are placed in higher sets in schools. Educated parents transmit aspirations, knowledge and standards that impact how well their children does in school. Parents buy their children educational goods to help them reach their best potential in school such as home computers and revision books. They also take them to extra one to one or private classes after school or are even directly teach them themselves. A parent can only help for instance with homework or teach their child if they have been educated themselves.
Moreover, setting by ability does not favour those students in the lower sets. The government-funded Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in a report discovered that “ability grouping appears to benefit higher-attaining pupils and be detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower-attaining learners. On average, ability grouping does not appear to be an effective strategy for raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to be assigned to lower groups” (Wintour, 2011). EEF also state that it, ‘appears likely that routine setting or streaming arrangements undermine low attainders’ confidence and discourage the belief that attainment can be improved through effort’ (EEF, 2017). Ability grouping promotes stigma and destroys academic motivation (Snider and Schumitsch, 2006). However, some studies such as Slavin (1990) contradicts this and indicates that ability setting raises the motivation of those students in the lower sets by eliminating any intimidation or rivalry from learning beside higher attainers students. As when students are grouped together based on skill level and with other students on the same scale as them, helps them move at a comfortable and own pace. It does not force students to rush or wait for other students. If a student understands the concept being taught, then they can move on but if they are struggling to understand they are able to get extra help and move on when they are ready to.
Ability grouping’ is common in schools as it allows teachers to use the best strategies for the particular group of students they are teaching and it is applied due to specialists believing that it increases achievement as the classwork is tailored to suit the needs of the student’s ability (Ireson & Hallam, 1999). Grouping students by ability is also much easier than teaching a varied scope of abilities in one session. For instance, lower attaining students might need specific work repeated to them nonetheless those high attainers students may not need as much recurrence. This allows teachers to be able to use the best type of strategy for each sets specific educational needs which will overall be helpful for students. In addition, setting by ability creates a more manageable classroom for teachers. Teachers usually feel they are able to teach more efficiently when students are grouped academically. It puts less pressure on them as they do not have to teach students that have a variety of educational differences and needs. Therefore, it is an advantage for students as it will provide them with a teacher that will be able to just focus on their particular needs.
Furthermore, lower sets in schools are taught by teachers new to the field with less experience whereas the higher sets are taught by much more knowledgeable teachers. Ireason et al. (2001) indicate that ‘the aim of setting is to reduce the heterogeneity within classes and to enable teachers to match their teaching to pupils’ needs’ (p.10). But, Jackson (1964) study revealed the tendency of schools to assign teachers with less experience and fewer qualifications to lower groups. Surely it those students in lower sets that need the much more experienced teachers to give them the best knowledge they need to be able to move to a higher set and achieve higher in school. However, the hidden message schools are portraying with setting is that they are inexplicitly stating these are your people which you will stay with. By schools giving lower set children inexperienced teachers that can only cater to their specific set restricts them from the right knowledge that allows for mobility within sets, therefore maintains that class hierarchy and reproduces the inequalities in society.
Schools through the hidden curriculum educate individuals to accept the hierarchy and do this by teaching students about power and authority relationships, leading students in learning that they must follow orders of those with more authority than them such as their teachers. As I mentioned above one of the three things Jackson (1968) stated students have to learn to live within a school is ‘power’. Establishing that teachers are “more powerful than students” (Jackson, 1968, p.10), and are authoritative figures that have control of positive and negative sanctions within school. The hidden message schools are trying to teach is that throughout life there will always be someone with more authority than you, for instance, your boss in your workplace, which you will have to follow instructions from.
Additionally, ability grouping likewise effects children later in life as it restricts them from social mobility in society. Social mobility “describes the movement or opportunities for movement between different social groups, and the advantages and disadvantages that go with this in terms of income, security of employment, opportunities for advancement” (Aldridge, 2001). Working-class children are usually in lower sets in school leading to them not doing as good in school, therefore, leave school with either none or some qualifications. This results in them not being able to get jobs that pay well, enabling them to move up the mobility ladder in society. For instance, schools indicate through setting that a student’s ability and life chances are tied up and restricted, enabling them for mobility. Social mobility reinforces social inequality and its agenda anticipates that we live in hierarchical society.
In addition, the secretary of State for Education Michael Gove claims that “schools should be engines of social mobility, they should provide the knowledge, and the tools, to enable talented young people to overcome accidents of birth and an inheritance of disadvantage in order to enjoy greater opportunities” (Department for Education, 2010). Gove agrees that schools should encourage social mobility which therefore should enable bright young children the opportunity to rise above their social background. He assumes a meritocracy where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow and that with the right education system, the most able can rise to the top regardless of their class disadvantages. The previous deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated that this will make a ‘society in which everyone is free to flourish and rise. Where birth is never destiny’ (Millard, 2011). This would make society a much fairer place that gives children equal chances despite their social class to be successful and especially gives those children from lower-class the same chances as the middle-class children.
To conclude, this paper has focused on how the hidden curriculum affects students through setting by ability in schools. In particular, it has address one factor of hidden curriculum which is social class. It began by defining the term ‘hidden curriculum’, then focus primarily on setting by ability and how it links in relation to social class, followed by the positives and negatives of setting by ability. I found there to be much more negatives of ability grouping than positives as it is a negative attribute in education that is seen to have a larger effect on individuals from minority backgrounds such as those from a lower social class upbringing. The hidden curriculum teaches through setting by ability that the set you are placed in school links to many factors one being social class. It delivers the message that if you are from a certain social class, you will be in a lower set in school. This meaning a child’s chances are almost tied up at birth as the family background an individual is born into has a huge impact on success and achievement in education and life. Society is seen to be an unfair and unequal place for individuals that are not from a well-educated and successful background (lower-class) as they are expected to work much harder than individuals born into a wealthy educated family (higher-class) to be able to succeed and break the glass ceiling provided in order for social mobility and change.