The Practice of Age-Grouping in English Schools: The Scope and Power of the Implicit Education Policy

Richard Llewellyn Greenfield


This paper considers the phenomenon of age-grouping in English Schools from the standpoint of the possible disadvantage experienced by younger children in a cohort. It is argued that conventional age-grouping is the combined result of an accident of history, political ideology and professional inertia, and that no formal policy exists in England which serves to prescribe how schools should be organised. Instead, the effects of other policies and legislation, influencing, for example, the curriculum and assessment, combine to make alternative forms of organisation difficult, if not impossible, giving rise to, what I have called, an ‘implicit policy’. Implicit policies, I argue, can be as influential and constraining as explicit ones, and can sway professional attitudes and behaviour in subtle ways. In the case of the implicit policy on age grouping – what I have termed the age-group paradigm – my research has shown that teachers can be led through a form of professional misrecognition to misconstrue existing arrangements as arising from professional judgments rather than from political, social or economic pressures. Unquestioning acceptance of the paradigm can lead to potentially harmful labelling of children and the formation of assumptions about the abilities of younger pupils in a year group which may prevent their true potential being recognised.


Primary School policy, pedagogy and organisation

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