Educational triage and setting in primary mathematics: a case-study

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This case-study, drawing on an unanticipated theme arising from a wider study of ability-grouping in primary mathematics, documents some of the consequences of educational triage in the final year of one primary school. The paper discusses how a process of educational triage, as a response to accountability pressures, is justified by teachers on the basis of shared theories about ability and potential. Attainment gains show that some practices associated with the triaging process work for the school, pushing selected pupils to achieve the Government target for the end of primary school. However, other practices appear to coincide with reduced mathematical gains for the lowest attaining pupils and a widening of the attainment gap. This case-study examines the mechanisms behind this, focusing on resource allocation, and assumptions about learners and their potential. The paper suggests a need to create dissonance, challenging shared assumptions, such as fixed-ability, which currently support triage processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-53
Number of pages16
JournalResearch in Mathematics Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Research in Mathematics Education, 2014, available online:


  • ability-grouping
  • educational triage
  • primary mathematics

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