Students' preferences for setting and/or mixed-ability grouping in secondary school physical education in England

Shaun Wilkinson*, Dawn Penney

*Corresponding author for this work

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There is an extensive international literature on different forms of ability grouping in schools, much of which describes their impact on students' academic achievement, motivation, self-concept and/or attitudes towards learning. Comparatively little research has focused on students' perspectives of these practices, while the research that has been conducted has primarily focused on mathematics, English and science. There is a conspicuous and arguably significant absence of research that explores students' perspectives on different forms of ability grouping in other areas of the school curriculum, including physical education (PE). In contrast to the relative privacy of classroom-based subjects, students' bodies, physical competencies and performances are very openly on display in PE, which potentially accentuates the importance of grouping strategies from students' perspectives. This study sought to extend current grouping and ability research by generating large-scale data relating to students' preferences for setting, mixed-ability grouping or a combination of these approaches in secondary school PE. Data were collected through an online survey administered to 4908 students in 48 mainstream state-funded secondary schools located in all nine regions of England. The responses showed that overall, most students preferred setting to mixed-ability grouping or a combination of these approaches. Variations in preferences are discussed in relation to demographic and situational factors, including gender, self-identified ability, school year group, previous experiences and the nature of the learning environment. Implications of the findings for policy, practice and future research are discussed, and the need for ability to be problematised and further explored in PE research and practice is highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Early online date11 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Mar 2024

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