Banding and streaming are seen by some sociologists as the personification of labelling and self-fulfilling prophecy theories that suggest ways in which a teacher’s reaction to an individual pupil can affect their educational careers.


In his book ‘Beachside Comprehensive’ (1981), Stephen J. Ball examines the internal organisation of a comprehensive school. At beachside a system of “Banding” was introduced for first-year pupils. Pupils were placed in one of the three bands on the basis of information supplied by their primary schools. The first band was supposed to contain the most able pupils, and the third band the least able.


In particular for pupils of similar measured ability, those whose fathers were non-manual workers had the greatest chance of being placed in the top band.


Ball observed that most pupils were conformist and eager when they first entered the school, but gradually the behaviour of the children began to diverge.


Band one pupils were ‘warmed-up’: they were encouraged to have high aspirations and to follow ‘O’- Level courses in subjects with a high academic status. In contrast, band two children were ‘cooled-out’ and directed towards more practical subjects and towards CSE exams. The end result was that band two pupils were much less likely than their band one counterpart to take ‘O’ levels to stay on at school after the age of 16, or to take ‘A’ levels. Ball admits that not all band two children failed.


Given that there was also a strong relationship between social class and banding, Ball Claims ‘working-class pupils tend to percolate downwards in the processes of academic and behavioural differentiation’.


While Ball examined the working of a banding system, a study by Nell Keddie (1973) looked at the operation of streaming in a single subject in a large London Comprehensive school.


Keddie discovered that knowledge defined by teachers as appropriate to the particular course was considered worthwhile; knowledge from the student’s experience which did not fit this definition was considered of little consequence.


The knowledge made available to students depended on the teacher’s assessment of their ability to handle it.


David Hargreaves related the emergence of subcultures to labelling and streaming. He stated that by labelling certain pupils as “trouble makers” and sending them to secondary modern was a way of calling tem failures. These pupils were faced with the problem of being unable to achieve high status within the school. These pupils sought ways of regaining the feeling of worth and their lost status. So they would find other pupils who had gone through the same scenarios and form sub-cultures. In order to gain status the delinquent’s would disrupt lessons and aggravate the teachers as much as possible. Those who received the higher status were the ones who could get into the most trouble in a sense.


Hargreaves’s work suggests. Woods goes onto suggest that a pupils’ ways of dealing with school life depend on whether they accept or reject the aim of academic success and the appropriate forms of behaviour and the norms of the school. Woods has identified eight different modes of adaption to school.


Ingratiation is the most positive adaption. The pupil will do their utmost to get along with the teachers and identify with them. They care little about how the other pupils see them and are most commonly known as “teacher’s pets.”


Compliance is a less strong positive adaption to the school. Commonly found with new pupils to secondary school or older pupils studying for external exams. They comply and get along with the teachers in order to achieve in their exams. In a sense the teacher is their instrument.


Opportunism is an adaptation that will develop usually in the second year at school but may be temporary before the pupil develops their stable attitude to school. Opportunist pupils change between trying to gain the approval of their teachers and their peers.


Ritualists are deviants but only to the extent that they reject the goals of education. They will not break the rules and will even turn up to school but do not care about academic success and the teacher’s approval.


Retreatists reject both the goals and means laid down by the school. However, they are not outright rebellious. They will sit in class and try to pass the time by “daydreaming” or will “muck about” and in general try to “have a laugh”, but are not consciously trying to oppose the values of school.


Colonizers attach no great importance to academic success. But will try to get away with enough to stay out of trouble. They will copy or cheat if they think they can get away with it.


Intransigence: This is one of the most difficult adaptations for schools to cope with. Intransigent pupils don’t care about academic success and reject the accepted standards of behaviour. Unlike the Colonizers they are not afraid to show their defiance.


The last adaptation is Rebellion. This involves the rejection of both the goals and means and their replacement with alternatives. School life is directed to different objectives than those sanctioned by the school. An example of this is when girls devote school life to showing concern for their personal appearance or engaging in discussions about boys. As for the boys, they may simply want to escape the school life and seek out unskilled manual labour work.


Woods’ explains that class plays a major role in allocating pupils into these groups. He states that the middle class children conform more than the working class ones are the larger group of non-conformists. An explanation for this is that the middle class pupils tend to find both the goals and the means of encouraged by the school to be more in keeping with the cultural values of their families. 


However, some criticisms of Peter Woods’s theory have arisen. V.J. Furlong has suggested that pupils do not act consistently in accordance with a sub culture or a particular type of adaptation. He states that pupils will behave differently in different contexts. An example of this is if a teacher is actually labelled by the pupils whether to be “strict” or “soft.” Even the most conformist pupil may turn to deviant acts when faced with a “soft” teacher, and may be encouraged to do so by fellow pupils.


Another criticism comes from M. Hamersley and G. Turner. They point out that there probably are not any set aims and values from people in authority in schools. Not all teachers share middle class views of the world and have middle class values. Some may be sympathetic to the “deviants” and may not be too enthusiastic about the most conformist pupil that they teach. 

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex