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Issues in Educational Research, 2023, Vol 33(1), 91-117.
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A systematic literature review of between-class ability grouping in Australia: Enduring tensions, new directions

Olivia Johnston
Edith Cowan University, Australia

Becky Taylor
UCL, United Kingdom

Ability grouping of students into separate classes within a school can be called 'between-class ability grouping' . This practice has persisted in Australia despite evidence that it is socially inequitable and does not improve academic outcomes. A systematic review of peer-reviewed literature about between-class ability grouping in Australia from 2012-2022 reveals only N=28 papers that meet the inclusion criteria. These papers are critiqued and synthesised into four main findings that characterise Australian research about between-class ability grouping from 2012-2022. The findings reveal a lack of substantive inquiry with most studies having limited scope and drawing on outdated or overly generalised data. International studies gloss over vital details about how between-class ability grouping is practised in Australia, while research conducted from within Australia reflects enduring tensions between gifted and talented, and social equity agendas. Further research that characterises the range of Australian grouping practices and their effects on students could be used to inform decisions about how to group students into classes in secondary schools.
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Authors: Dr Olivia Johnston is a lecturer in the School of Education at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. She has completed two previous research studies on between-class ability grouping in Australian secondary schools. Her work around the topic has had impact on educational research and practice in Australia, with mentions across multiple media outlets and citations from five policy documents. Olivia is an Early Career Researcher who completed her PhD under the Australian Research Training Program, graduating in 2021 with multiple awards acknowledging the high calibre of her doctoral research. She also has more than eight years' experience as a secondary school teacher, and has conducted research with young people to convey their voices back to their educators.
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3314-9031
Email: o.johnston@ecu.edu.au

Dr Becky Taylor is Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Teachers and Teaching Research at IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society, London, UK. She is co-PI of The Student Grouping Study, a large-scale naturalistic study of attainment grouping in mathematics in English secondary schools. Previously she was PI of the Secondary School Grouping Survey and project manager and researcher practitioner for the Best Practice in Grouping Students study. Becky has extensive experience of designing and conducting surveys with teachers and students in England, and in leading mixed-methods research in the area of attainment grouping.
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7257-4463
Email: becky.taylor@ucl.ac.uk

Please cite as: Johnston, O. & Taylor, B. (2023). A systematic literature review of between-class ability grouping in Australia: Enduring tensions, new directions. Issues in Educational Research, 33(1), 91-117. http://www.iier.org.au/iier33/johnston.pdf

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Created 23 March 2023. Last correction: 23 March 2023. Website: Roger Atkinson [rjatkinson@bigpond.com]