In this chapter we are interested in ways in which pupils are organised into classes and into groups within classes, and whether transitions into, within and from the primary sector influence classroom teaching and pupils’ progress. Educational reform as it relates to primary schools has mainly, and certainly since the Education Reform Act of 1988, been concerned with curriculum and assessment arrangements. In this chapter we argue that teaching and learning in schools take place in distinctive social contexts – classrooms and groups – that need to be recognised and studied carefully because of the effect they have on teaching and learning. Although some theorists, for example Bronfenbrenner (1979) and Doyle (1986), have been influential in identifying the contextual basis for school learning, there is still a strong tendency to see teaching, learning and classroom management in a kind of vacuum, separate from the school organisational contexts within which they are situated. At the same time, opinions can sometimes be strongly put, for example about grouping in schools, with many politicians at least now favouring some version of same-ability groupings, whether at the class or within-class level. There are also very strongly held views about the benefits of small classes in schools. But there are many complexities involved that require us to take an objective look at the research evidence available. Much of this survey will cover research connected to grouping strategies in schools.

It may be worth saying at the outset that we have considered this work at two main levels – the first concerns grouping at the class or school level and the second concerns pupil grouping within the classroom. With regard to the first level, various strategies have been used to group pupils into year groups, forms, and subject teaching groups. Throughout the chapter we refer to this type of grouping as ‘structured/organisational grouping’. Topics covered include setting and streaming, mixed-ability and same-ability classes. The nature and composition of such groups has been the source of heated debates for many years. These debates have sometimes been unhelpfully polemical, with arguments raging between those defending ability grouping and those promoting mixed-ability teaching. The reality is more complex and less clear, and we aim to achieve a balanced account of what we know about grouping at this level, highlighting the reasons why schools adopt particular forms of grouping, and the impact of different forms of grouping on teaching and on pupil learning and attainment. But we also consider grouping in a second way, that is, groupings within classes. A focus on grouping at the class or school level may obscure what is happening in the groups within the class, in relation to teaching, learning and attitudes. One theme to emerge

from our survey, which we might state at this early point, is that implications for practice are evident at both levels but perhaps clearer for the second compared to the first level. Another theme to emerge is that there is a gap between current practice and the potential for using pupil groups to enhance pupil learning while in school. Furthermore, the literature on transitions also emphasises differences in within-classroom processes between phases and years that may affect the child’s move from one setting to another.