PROBLEMS OF CHANGE, TEACHING AND CONTROL OF MIXED ABILITY CURRICULA: a Case Study of Integrated Studies
Chapter Six PROBLEMS OF CHANGE, TEACHING AND CONTROL IN MIXED ABILITY CURRICULA: A CASE STUDY OF INTEGRATED STUDIES
John Evans and Brian Davies
In this chapter we will report upon the endeavours of one school, Sageton, a large, urban 11-18, co-educational comprehensive school (cf Evans, 1982a; Davies and Evans, 1984), to effect mixed ability teaching1 . The focus of our analyses will be upon the actions of 'social science' teachers at Sageton, and their attempts to effect curriculum change by individuating (see below) their curriculum, in respect of mixed ability grouping in the context of lower school 'integrated' and 'Related' studies schemes of work. Our contention is that much of the current practice of mixed ability teaching, as represented in the Sageton data, is often very far removed from the kind of rhetoric and images of practice outlined or intended in the egalitarian prescriptions of educationalists and politicians. Given the present conditions of their work, especially in respect of the pressures of time, for evaluation, order and control, teachers lack opportunity, vocabulary and practice to effect the kind of mixed ability teaching which would begin to look like an effective and appropriate means of delivery for mass education,
Elsewhere we have discussed (cf Davies,1977, Davies and Evans}1984) the variety of methods and motivations which underlie a school's decision to 'go mixed ability'. At Sageton, as elsewhere, mixed ability innovation was the product of rapid school demographic transformation and senior management decision by fiat. Against this background, it is not difficult to understand some of the limitations which subsequently emerged in the subject by subject classroom practice of many teachers and their concomitant disaffection with mixed ability
year three the autonomy of subject departments was partially re-affirmed. Pupils received 70 minutes each of History, Geography and either Religious Education or Multi-cultural Studies, the lattersharing time on a half-termly basis. Subject contents were ' related', that is to say, drawn up in the knowledge of what was being taught in other departments but the sequencing of units characteristic of teaching in years one and two was absent. In years one to three the curriculum and mode of presentation was individuated, that is to say all pupils simultaneously had access to the same subject content within common time limits defined by the syllabus organisation and timetabling. Both factors (content and time) were made available through work sheets, from which pupils were expected to work alone and largely independently of the teacher. The content of the courses in years 1-3 came towards the 'newish' end of the spectrum and reflected aims more generally expressed in the wider subject sub-culture3 of social science teaching4.