Subject Setting in Secondary School and How It Affects Your Child

This is a very important issue for all children in secondary school and we as parents MUST understand its importance and ask the right questions about it when we go in for our parents evening in secondary schools.

What Is Subject Setting?

Setting is where students are divided on a subject by subject basis according to their ability i.e. It is where pupils are put with other children of similar ability for specific subjects e.g. Maths and English.

Most schools practice this and it is also practiced in some other parts of the world and can honestly sometimes be controversial. It does have its pro and cons but it is an area that we must understand more of and where necessary ask the specific questions.

The consequences of us not understanding this means that:

If your child is currently at the bottom group and remains at the bottom group with no improvements, then at GCSE exams, your child is tested on the foundation papers. The highest grade that can be obtained on the foundation papers is a ‘C’ grade and that your child is not guaranteed that grade either.

When you go into your child’s secondary school for this term’s parents evening, ask the Maths and English teacher what set level your child is in.

Advantages of Subject Setting

  • Efficient way to organise pupils for instruction
  • Teachers can effectively target instructions to students needs

Disadvantages of Subject Setting

  • There tends to be similar inequality to the inequalities in the wider society
  • The unequal achievement levels become more unequal over time
  • There are arguments that say subject setting has adverse effect on some pupils – especially those in the bottom groups. They could be at a disadvantage, as they can become defined and demoralised by it.

There have been instances where children have been put or kept in the wrong sets for well intent reasons or otherwise. You need to have an understanding of why your child is in a particular set.


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