Pupil groupings in primary school classrooms: sites for learning and social pedagogy?

P. Kutnick, P. Blatchford, E. Baines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies of teaching and learning within classrooms rarely consider the multilayered effects of social context, especially involving within-class groupings. Yet, all pupils in classes are placed in some form of grouping throughout their classroom life and this will have an impact on their learning. This article seeks to move forward the understanding of within-class groupings in real classrooms. Five 'core themes' central to pupils' experience of groups in classrooms are identified (group size, group composition, learning tasks, within group interaction and adult presence) and used as a basis to collect information on classroom groupings (using a novel classroom 'mapping' survey). Teachers in 187 classrooms from Years 2 and 5 were surveyed and undertook the mapping during normal classroom work time. The most common group size found was the small group of 4-6 pupils. Other group sizes, including whole classes, individuals, dyads, and triads were less frequent. Most pupil groupings were teacher designated and combined girls and boys of similar ability. Groupings mainly studied English and mathematics, and worked on individuated tasks involving the practice or revision of skills/knowledge. Adults were present with one-third of groupings, with particular adults interacting with particular types of groupings (low-ability boys, high-ability girls, and whole classes). When data from the themes are interrelated, especially group size and composition with learning task and interaction type, many points of concern arise. Findings suggest that teachers may not think strategically about the size and composition of groupings in relation to the tasks assigned. Adult presence is associated with control of knowledge and behaviour, and different types of adults are associated with the support of groupings at different levels of ability. Teachers provide little training for children to develop group work skills, and offer little opportunity for these skills to be practised in the promotion of learning. The findings and discussion combine to identify that the area of 'social pedagogy of pupil grouping' is a new and legitimate concern, and that further (and more focused) research in the area should be undertaken.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-206
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2002


Dive into the research topics of 'Pupil groupings in primary school classrooms: sites for learning and social pedagogy?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this