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Teacher “quality” and attainment grouping: The role of within-school teacher deployment in social and education inequality

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Becky Francis
  • Jeremy Hodgen
  • Nicole Craig
  • Becky Taylor
  • Louise Archer
  • Anna Mazenod
  • Antonina Tereshchenko
  • Paul Connolly
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/01/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Teaching and Teacher Education
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)183-192
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date11/10/18
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Prior research suggests that where pupils are 'tracked', better qualified, more experienced teachers tend to be deployed to higher attainment groups, at the expense of pupils in lower tracks. This is especially pertinent from a social justice perspective, given consistent findings in the UK that pupils from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds are over-represented in low attainment groups. This article draws on data from 380 teachers, drawn from 126 secondary schools in England, and interviews with 118 Year 7 students, to examine whether these findings from prior research in the US and elsewhere extend to the case of England in the present day. Findings show some evidence of these inequitable tendencies: those teachers highly qualified in their taught subject were less likely to be allocated to low sets. We also examine whether an intervention designed to encourage more equitable distribution had any impact on practice, and find tentative evidence that deployment in intervention schools had been impacted in relation to teacher subject qualifications. Pupils believed that teachers of higher sets had higher expectations and standards of behaviour, whereas those for low sets were seen to be unhelpfully indulgent, indicating a need for research attention to pedagogy and tracking. Findings are analysed from a social justice perspective, with interest in the consequences of inequitable distribution of teachers for the reproduction of social inequality.