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Journal Article

Publication Title

The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher




School of Education




Open Access funding enabled and organized by CAUL and its Member Institutions


Johnston, O., Spooner-Lane, R., Zhang, W., Macqueen, S., & Spina, N. (2024). The equity of class ability grouping practices in Australian education: Findings from a survey in Western Australia and Queensland. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher. Advance online publication.


Grouping students into separate classes according to their ‘ability’ is an inequitable practice that does not, overall, improve academic outcomes. Research has continued to show that class ability grouping widens the educational gap between students from disadvantaged and privileged backgrounds. PISA data analysis suggests that class ability grouping continues to be used in Australian schools, at least in Year 10. However, no research has characterized the existing class ability grouping practices being used in secondary schools from Years 7 to 9. The findings reported in this paper add quantitative evidence to the literature, showing that students are experiencing different class ability grouping practices according to their year group, subjects, and locations. An across-state survey about class ability grouping was conducted with respondents from 143 schools providing data about the schools’ class ability grouping practices. The findings reveal variations in how class grouping practices are used by schools in Australia that have been not captured in other research: Class ability grouping was activated differently in different schools, increased as students’ year levels increased, was most prevalent in Maths and English, and was used more extensively in Western Australia than in Queensland. The findings use descriptive statistics to show that students in Australia are experiencing different grouping practices, with discussion of how some practices are more inequitable than others. This raises questions about how the varied forms of class ability grouping that are being employed are contributing to educational inequalities in Australia and how future research can address this problem.



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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