How band­ing can be ma­nip­u­lated

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - INSIGHT -

A “fair band­ing” sys­tem is be­ing adopted by a grow­ing num­ber of schools in Eng­land.

Sut­ton Trust re­search from 2014 found that band­ing was be­ing used by at least one sec­ondary in 37 lo­cal au­thor­ity ar­eas and by about 4 per cent of sec­ondary schools na­tion­ally. The ap­proach – de­signed to en­sure that a pro­por­tion­ate spread of chil­dren of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties are ad­mit­ted to a school – has been hailed as a way of achiev­ing a truly com­pre­hen­sive in­take.

A prospec­tive pupil will take a test and be al­lo­cated into one of a num­ber of abil­ity bands de­pend­ing on their per­for­mance.

The school then takes a fixed per­cent­age of pupils from each band to match the over­all abil­ity pro­file of an area.

But the pre­vi­ous chief schools ad­ju­di­ca­tor Elizabeth Pass­more used her fi­nal re­port in De­cem­ber 2015 to crit­i­cise some schools for us­ing a band­ing sys­tem to favour high-abil­ity or mid­dle-class pupils. This can hap­pen in a va­ri­ety of ways. Crit­ics say a sys­tem that re­lies on par­ents ap­ply­ing for a test, and tak­ing their chil­dren to sit it, would im­me­di­ately ex­clude chil­dren from less-mo­ti­vated fam­i­lies.

It is also pos­si­ble for schools to ma­nip­u­late band­ing more di­rectly to achieve a higher-abil­ity in­take – the key is the area they de­cide to use to cal­cu­late their abil­ity pro­file. For ex­am­ple, a school lo­cated in a very de­prived im­me­di­ate area could take into ac­count the pro­file of a wider area con­tain­ing more priv­i­leged, high-achiev­ing chil­dren, when set­ting its abil­ity bands.

Fill­ing an over­sub­scribed school in this way would al­low it to en­sure that the school ends up with a higher-abil­ity pro­file than its lo­cal chil­dren, while still claim­ing that it has a com­pre­hen­sive in­take.

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