Grouping Practices in New Zealand Mathematics Classrooms: Where Are We at and Where Should We Be?

  • Glenda AnthonyEmail author
  • Roberta Hunter


The practice of grouping mathematics students by perceived levels of attainment, commonly referred to by teachers as ability grouping, is a contentious and long-standing topic of debate in education. Responses from a survey of 102 mathematics support teachers affirm the widespread use of ability grouping within New Zealand primary school mathematics classroom. This contrasts recent literature that suggest changes towards more flexible heterogeneous grouping practices aligned with collaborative problem-solving learning environments will better support equitable and productive learning opportunities. In this paper, we explore teachers’ levels of satisfaction with current grouping practices, with a view to understanding the potential for changes. The mathematics support teachers indicate that postgraduate study, experimentation within their own classrooms, and success working with problem-solving group tasks with struggling students have all served to prompt their rethinking of grouping practices. However, responses also point to teachers’ uncertainty around change, the desire for extended professional learning support and exemplars of alternative practices, and the importance of whole-school leadership within a change process. It is clear that multi-levels of influence will be needed to disrupt embedded practices of ability grouping that currently serve to exclude and marginalise groups of disadvantage groups of students.


Ability-grouping Primary school Achievement Equity Mindset 


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Copyright information

© New Zealand Association for Research in Education 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of EducationMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.Institute of EducationMassey UniversityAucklandNew Zealand

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