FOI release

Streamlining within English comprehensive schools

Freedom of information request and disclosure on streamlining in comprehensives.


  • Date requested: 26 July 2010
  • Publish date: 03 August 2010
  • Updated: 24 November 2010


Can the Department provide information on the proportion of English comprehensive schools that utilise some method of ‘streamlining’ their pupils at some point in their journey through secondary schooling?


Whilst the Department does not use the terminology ‘streamlining’, it would be helpful to outline two different pupil grouping practices which are relevant to the definition of streamlining:

  • Setting - refers to the practice in which pupils are grouped according to their ability in a particular subject. This means that they may be in higher or lower sets and with different peers in each subject.
  • Streaming - refers to the practice in which pupils are assigned to classes on the basis of overall assessment of their general ability, usually based on prior attainment or outcomes of cognitive or other tests. Pupils remain in their streamed classes for the majority of subjects. In consideration of your request I have included both these practices.

I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Furthermore, the information requested, is not routinely collected or held by this Department. We do, however, have some information from Ofsted on setting which is outlined below:

  • Figures from Ofsted for 2003/04 showed that at Key Stage 3, 82% of maths lessons were set, 61% in science, 56% in modern foreign languages, and 48% in English.
  • After September 2005, a much smaller number of lessons were observed than under the previous arrangements; and as the lessons observed are not necessarily representative of the pupil grouping in the school as a whole, it is not possible to compile similar figures for more recent years.
  • Of about 18,400 classroom observations conducted by Ofsted inspectors in secondary schools last year (2008/09), roughly only four in ten represented set lessons:
    • at primary, in the region of 11% of English/English Literature lessons were set, 20% of mathematics lessons and 3% science lessons
    • at secondary, this data suggests that around 53%, 70% and 60% of lessons are set for English, mathematics and science respectively.

These figures however are not based on a representative sample and should not be used to make comparisons across years.