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Even in the old grammar schools, which were already selective, pupils were often put into ‘streams’. These are teaching groups based on overall ability. Pupils quickly worked out whether they were in the ‘top stream’ or ‘bottom stream’. It is a watery metaphor, and obviously the top stream was meant to flow more quickly.

The rationale behind streaming is that pupils will make better progress alongside pupils of similar ability, and planning a lesson will be more coherent, aiming it at a specific level. As with any system that categorises or labels people, there are problems. Some pupils don't fit neatly into a category – they might be good at one subject, but not at another. Making a decision on pupils at the borderlines is ...

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