Original Research

Teachers’ perceptions of ability grouping in the face of policy on inclusion: A case of Johannesburg metropolitan mainstream primary schools

Nilford Hove, Nareadi T. Phasha
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 12, No 1 | a1081 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v12i1.1081 | © 2022 Nilford Hove, Nareadi T. Phasha | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 August 2021 | Published: 27 September 2022

About the author(s)

Nilford Hove, Department of Inclusive Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Nareadi T. Phasha, Department of Inclusive Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: This article reports findings of a qualitative study that investigated teachers’ perceptions on the use of ability grouping as a classroom pedagogical practice at selected primary schools in South Africa in the wake of the inclusive education movement. Ability grouping is one of the most used grouping practices in South African schools, but little is known about how teachers view it in the wake of the policy on inclusion.

Aim: This study was aimed at exploring the mainstream classroom teachers’ perceptions about the use of ability grouping in the classrooms and how it reflects on principles of inclusive education.

Setting: A total of ten teachers from ten different primary schools, two from each district, were purposefully selected to participate in the study.

Methods: A qualitative approach was used in this study. Data were collected through in-depth interviews, which were conducted on two occasions with each participant at their respective schools. Data were analysed thematically for content and returned to participants for accuracy checking.

Results: Findings revealed that teachers perceive ability grouping as capable of facilitating interactions of learners with learning disabilities, offering opportunities for differentiated instruction and facilitating proper use of teaching and learning media. Despite its benefits, ability grouping can be viewed as contrasting with the ideals of inclusive pedagogy and perpetuating exclusion, as diverse learners are not given opportunities to learn together in the same groups.

Conclusion: The article recommends that ability grouping should be withdrawn as it perpetuates incidents of learner labelling. Differentiated instruction and the provision of varied teaching/learning media should be carried out within inclusive settings to prevent incidents of learner labelling. A model for an inclusive grouping practice is proposed.

Contribution: The study findings will help in improving teachers’ competencies and understanding of inclusive classroom pedagogic practices that benefit all learners at primary school levels despite their differences.


ability grouping; teacher’s perceptions; primary schools; inclusive pedagogy; South Africa


Total abstract views: 1662
Total article views: 2407


Crossref Citations

1. Students’ participation in mathematics in inclusive classrooms: a study of the enacted mathematical and relational knowing of teachers
Malin Gardesten, Hanna Palmér
Mathematical Thinking and Learning  first page: 1  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1080/10986065.2023.2258485