eBASE, effective basic services:Within Class Attainment Local Summary

Within Class Attainment Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of Within-class attainment grouping on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of Within-class attainment grouping on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an analysis of individual studies of Within-class attainment grouping on educational attainment in sub-Saharan Africa. The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers. It is even more valuable for parents who maybe thinking of better ways to improve on the educational attainment of their children.

Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa developed this summary using available research evidence while also taking into consideration prominent themes arising from key informant interviews (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD), particularly FGD with teachers and students. The research evidence in this summary is acquired from a detailed and replicable search protocol used on a wide range – listed below – of research databases for related studies in low- and middle-income countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Definition of strand

Within-class attainment grouping involves organising pupils within their usual class for specific activities or topics, such as literacy. Pupils with similar levels of current attainment are grouped together, for example, on specific tables, but all pupils are taught by their usual teacher and support staff, and they usually all follow the same curriculum” (Higgins, et al., 2016).

Why is this strand important?

Within-class attainment grouping aims at matching tasks, activities and support to learners’ current capabilities. There is global evidence suggesting positive impact of within class attainment interventions on learner’s achievement. However, with a variety of approaches and terminologies associated with this style of intervention, it is of interest to assess its effectiveness, as well as features to consider before its implementation in a learning environment.

Summary of research in Sub-Saharan Africa

In Sub Saharan Africa, the impact of within-class attainment grouping on learners’ educational outcomes has not been substantially investigated. This is a flaw within the evidence base, as many teachers make use of this pedagogical practice at nursery and early primary level. For instance, in South Africa, within-class homogenous ability grouping is embedded within the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements for teaching young children (Basic education 2011). A qualitative study (du Plooy, 2019) conducted in South Africa that drew on the voices of learners and their experiences demonstrates that within class ability grouping can be exclusionary as it enhances the achievement of students in high ability groups while learners in low-ability groups may feel inhibited and dispirited. (Yoro et al., 2020) affirms that within class ability grouping may help teachers to plan accordingly and provide teaching that will suit the learners’ capabilities. However, this pedagogical practice may lead to additional stress for teachers, and it is possible it has disadvantaged learners in the lower groupings.


In Sub Sahara Africa, there is a dearth in evidence for within-class attainment grouping. Two qualitative studies conducted in South Africa highlighted a positive impact of this pedagogical approach on learners’ achievement, suggesting it helps teachers tailor their teaching to students’ specific need. However, they warned it creates a differential learner achievement levels within the same classroom, enabling some students to outshine others. Also students in low ability groups may develop a feeling of inferiority, and a defeatist attitude where they accept the notion of being slow learners and consequentially put less effort in to change this status. Importantly, evidence reviewed dealt solely with within class ability grouping. Other grouping techniques such as heterogeneous grouping have not yet been investigated.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

The available evidence, mostly qualitative studies suggest within class attainment grouping may be exclusionary, mostly benefiting high ability groups while disadvantaging low ability groups. The evidence of within class attainment grouping on learners’ attainment however is very limited, with no experimental studies investigating this style of intervention. Robust randomized controlled trials are therefore recommended.

The cost of implementing within class attainment grouping in the Lake Chad Basin is likely to be moderate.

Search Terms

‘‘Within class attainment grouping” or within class ability grouping” or ability grouping” or homogeneous grouping” or class grouping” or heterogeneous grouping” or stud* grouping”

Databases Searched

EBSCO (ebooks, ERICS, Education Administration Abstract, Education Abstract)
Campbell Collaboration
Global Partnership for Education
African Evaluation Journal


du Plooy, L. L. (2019). The Manifestations of the Practice of Within-Class Homogeneous Ability Grouping. South African Journal of Childhood Education, 9(1). https://search.ebscohost.com/l…


Yoro, A. J., Fourie, J. v., & van der Merwe, M. (2020). Learning support strategies for learners with neurodevelopmental disorders: Perspectives of recently qualified teachers. African Journal of Disability, 9. https://doi.org/10.4102/AJOD.V…