This week in my class, I have been reminded of something that happened when I was in Year 8.
This week one of my pupils had been becoming really upset in the mornings, just around the time the maths lesson would begin. I thought at first it was that he was genuinely unwell, because he has been, but that proved not to be the case, as he was fine afterwards. It got to the point that this beautifully well mannered and well behaved lad was outright refusing to go, and he would only stay with me.
We all got into psychoanalyst mode, but came up with nothing concrete. Then I spoke to his maths teacher from last year. It turns out, the kid had accidentally been allocated into the lowest ability set, despite previously being in a higher one.
This got me thinking. What was so bad about it, that he become so painfully distressed and upset? The horrible answer, I think, is in the way that sets cause children to think of themselves and others.
When I was in my first week of Year 8 I found myself inexplicably away from all my friends in the top set (interesting too how social groups mirror teachers judgemental of academic worth), and I was in Set3. Like my pupil, I didn’t feel as though I could suggest the school had made an error, but I knew immediately that something was wrong.
What was I doing with them?
Perhaps this is the most pernicious effect of setting; it causes children to stratify and grade each other by our perception (often mistaken) of their ability?