Grouping of pupils in secondary school classrooms: possible links between pedagogy and learning

P. Kutnick, P. Blatchford, E. Baines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pupil groupings within classrooms are a constant social pedagogic factor which effect participation and learning. The grouping of pupils provides a dynamic relationship between learning tasks and the classroom context within which learning takes place. This paper explores the types of pupil groupings found in secondary school classrooms related to themes of group size and composition, learning task, group interaction and teacher presence. The paper questions how classroom groupings may be related to the circumstances that promote or inhibit school learning. Previous studies on classroom grouping in secondary schools have been dominated by the ability or attainment level of the child. The approach and review presented in this study advances a new and more extensive understanding of social pedagogic activity within classrooms. Empirically, a novel classroom “mapping” method with follow-up questions for teachers was used to identify within-class grouping characteristics of children aged 12 and 15 years (in school Years 7 and 10), across curriculum subjects (English, mathematics, science and humanities) in secondary schools. Maps were drawn for 250 classrooms and explained by teachers from 47 schools in England. Results identified that a variety of groupings were found in most classes. Use of particular groupings related to phase of lesson and, to some extent, curriculum. The results showed little pedagogic association with learning task or interaction; teacher presence associated with control of knowledge; and group composition dominated by stereotypical adolescent friendships. Discussion considers the social pedagogic potential of grouping (with regard to relational capital), control of knowledge and social structure of the classroom attributed to the teacher, and patterns of grouping that may be associated with polarisation in the classroom.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-374
Number of pages26
JournalSocial Psychology of Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2005


  • classroom organisation
  • mapping
  • pupil grouping
  • social pedagogy


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