When I was fortunate enough to attend Stratford High School some years ago, the practice was to stream kids into classes based on their IQ scores. This always seemed to me like a strange thing to do, but as the youngest and dumbest kid in the top class, then I probably would think that.
Even in that class we had some people who were just way too smart and way too talented, even for Stratford. I was in awe of most of them. Come annual prize-giving events there was a group of less than 10 who seemed to hoover-up the prizes for all subjects for which podium honours were awarded. Others of us had to wait at home anxiously for Mum and Dad to open our school reports to see if we had managed a ranking higher than 30th out of a class of 32 for each subject.
As the top class we seemed to get the top teachers for each subject. And there were some great ones. Teachers who were not only passionate about their area of expertise but also in engaging with a classroom full of kids and getting them revved up about the subject in question. Most were university qualified, with strings of degrees. Some had taught overseas. I can still clearly remember snapshots from various lessons, such as one English teacher’s dread dislike of English romantic poets and instruction on how to correctly pronounce epitome.
After about four or so years of IQ-based streaming, Stratford High’s leaders decided to do lateral streaming, mixing kids of different IQs up. Goodness knows how long that practice lasted, as by then I had left school. If Professor Hornby is to be believed, then ability-based streaming must have continued at various schools around the country and the end of the world is nigh.
I think that there is way too much angst shed about what kids should or shouldn’t achieve at secondary school. Life will soon prove to all of them how unpredictable it can be. Some will move on to tertiary training. Some will enter the job market. Some will become professional sports people. Others will be unemployed. Apart from those in the latter category, after a couple of years away from school nobody will care not a jot whether or not a person completed NCEA or International Baccalaureate exams or indeed what their marks were. It’s not what a person learns that’s important. I think the key is having a willingness to learn and an enjoyment of gaining knowledge and understanding.
There are many things that will determine whether a person “succeeds” or not. However that reality appears to be lost on some academics, teachers and parents who want to try and blame how secondary school classes were constructed.