Exploring issues of social equity and learner identities in the phenomenon of the 'bottom reading group'.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Education


The aim of this collaborative PhD with Renfrewshire Council is to investigate the under-researched phenomenon of the 'bottom reading group' in Primary Education, from the perspectives of identity and social equity. It will also co-produce and explore alternative mixed-attainment methods of teaching reading, with the intention of improving experience and outcomes for disadvantaged children.
All children come to school with valuable but different experiences of reading. For children with less experience of shared stories at an early age, their destination may be 'the bottom reading group', with inexperience being mistaken for inability. Research on 'ability groupings' in general suggests that, once in a low 'ability' group, pupils are most likely to remain there for their entire educational life, and that this disadvantage and resulting stigma travels with them into adulthood. Children from low socio-economic and some ethnic minorities backgrounds are significantly over-represented in lower 'ability' sets. Theoretically, the study will draw on Bourdieusian (1984, 1990) perspectives of capitals, refracted through the lenses of transactional literary theory and socio-cultural perspectives on literacy (Albright and Luke, 2010). It will adopt a mixed-methods approach to enquiry. Quantitative attainment data will be collected and analysed, as well as qualitative data from ethnographic and participatory sources. Qualitative social network analysis will also be used to illuminate patterns of interactions and relationships in 'ability-grouped' and mixed-attainment reading settings. An intervention, designed by the investigator in partnership with the participating teachers, will introduce mixed-attainment reading. This will be evaluated and its impact explored qualitatively through ethnographic observation, participatory activities, interviews and qualitative social network analysis. Impact on children's attainment will be collected quantitively using the New Group Reading Test and teacher assessment data on reading-book levels.
It is anticipated that the research output will make a valuable contribution to the current UK academic, policy and public debates around inequality in education and pupil groupings. Renfrewshire will benefit from teachers' involvement in research and from knowledge-exchange activities such as literature seminars, practical clinics to support mixed-attainment reading pedagogies, a collaborative blog, and the production of a resource pack for mixed-attainment teaching strategies for reading. The research will help support and evaluate practical pedagogical alternatives to grouping by 'ability', which has potential wider international relevance.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000681/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2112948 Studentship ES/P000681/1 01/10/2018 28/02/2022 Jess Anderson