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Home > News > Professional Issues > Professional Issues Volume 14 > Negative effects on student streaming

Negative effects on student streaming


student_streaming.jpgIssue snapshot:

  • Streaming students has minor positive effects for higher-achieving students and a major negative effect on lower achieving students.
  • Contemporary education practices favour non-streamed classes, where teachers develop an individualised learning plan for each student as recommended in the recent Gonski 2.0 review.
  • Implementing differentiated teaching to the extent now being demanded requires recognition that teachers require additional time to prepare and plan for classes.

 A recent United Kingdom study, concerning grouping students by ability and teaching struggling learners, has an equally important impact for teachers and schools in Australia.

While grouping students into “ability sets” is common in the UK, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) leading expert in inclusive education, Professor Linda Graham, said the new research provides further evidence to confirm what teachers already know: that streaming students into similar groups based on perceived ability disadvantages lower-achieving students by placing a ceiling on their learning.

“Despite conclusive evidence since the 1960s that ability streaming compounds disadvantage by reducing the intellectual quality of classrooms, as well as the potential for learning through peer-interaction, it remains one of the most common practices used in schools.

“The aim is to reduce the scope of classroom diversity for teachers and is even mistakenly perceived as an approach to differentiation, a teaching practice aimed at meeting the needs of diverse learners in inclusive classrooms,” Professor Graham said.

What is the issue?
Evidence shows that streaming has only slight positive effects for higher-achieving students and a major negative effect on lower achieving students.

“Streaming also has negative effects for teachers teaching the ‘lower sets’ because these teachers have higher numbers of students with learning difficulties, disability and disruptive behaviour than they would have otherwise,” Professor Graham said.

The concept of streaming students runs counter to recent suggestions from the Gonski 2.0  Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools,which advocates for a more individualised approach to learning that does not separate students into ability grouped classrooms.

How will this impact teachers?
The implication on teacher workload is vast, as classes with many low-level students require considerable preparation and planning for the purposes of differentiation.

“It is also quite common for these groups to be given to early career and contract teachers with schools reserving their more experienced, subject-specialist teachers for NAPLAN grades and the critical senior years,” Professor Graham said.

Supporters of streaming claim that it can help all ability groups by tailoring lesson content to their ability.

The real issue for the profession is that balancing the needs of students of different ability levels, without resorting to streaming, requires time to develop and implement more individualised learning plans.

Current planning, preparation and correction time (PPCT) time allocations were designed for a previous era, where expectations of differentiation were not present.

Our union is reviewing current Hours of Duty clauses in all collective agreements to identify ways to provide teachers with adequate time to meet their professional demands.


Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.