25 September 2014

Innate ability, and its enemies

The belief system associated with the egalitarian ideology has been increasing in influence for a long time, and is now overwhelmingly dominant.
Splitting pupils as young as six into classes based on ability – known as streaming – makes the brightest children brighter but does little to help the rest to catch up, according to new research into schools in England.

The analysis of the progress made by 2500 six and seven-year-olds in state primary schools in England, conducted by academics at the Institute of Education in London, found that the use of streaming appears to entrench educational disadvantage compared with the results of pupils who were taught in all-ability classes.

“Children in the top stream achieved more and made significantly more academic progress than children attending schools that did not stream, while children in the middle or bottom streams achieved less and made significantly less academic progress,” wrote the authors, Susan Hallam and Samantha Parsons.

The research ... [is] to be presented on Thursday at the British Educational Research Association annual conference ...

The authors [of the research report] conclude that the widespread use of streaming will do little or nothing to arrest the difficulties faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those whose parents have low levels of education ...

“The data suggest that streaming undermines the attempts of governments to raise attainment for all children whatever their socio-economic status,” the paper concludes. “Overall, the evidence indicates that streaming, particularly where it begins at a very early age, is likely to be counterproductive in reducing the attainment gap.” (The Guardian, 25 September 2014)
Celia Green with mother,
Dorothy Green (née Cleare)
My own case might seem to provide a counterexample to the idea that there are no innate individual differences influencing ability and development. Early in my life, when the modern ideology was less dominant, my exceptionality was often commented upon. An early example of this was told to me by my mother several decades after it happened. A few weeks after I was born, some sort of health visitor or nursing aid for new mothers was helping my mother to bathe me. Presumably this person had a wide experience of babies, but she expressed surprise about me, soon after seeing me for the first time. She said something on the lines of:

“Gosh, isn’t she intelligent!”

“How do you know?” my mother said.

“It’s the way she looks at things,” the nurse said.

It did not appear to be the case, as people would like to think, that recognition of my exceptionality at an early age had no predictive value for my later development.

When I was two, I was found to be able to read. When I was ten, I came top of the Essex County grammar school scholarship exam. When I was seventeen, I was awarded the top scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford.

However, as time passed, and the modern ideology gained ground, people told me more often that I was not special, I was just an ordinary person, and that no conclusion could be drawn from early precocity.

At the same time, I was increasingly frustrated and deprived of opportunity, since what might have been regarded as indications of my exceptionality aroused hostility and obstructiveness.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.