Although streaming is often employed in Australian schools, few advantageous effects on students’ educational outcomes are cited in the literature. Streaming can increase academic disadvantage for students placed in lower streams. Streaming can segregate students along the lines of race and class, allowing for less cross-cultural interaction in classrooms. Conflicting research conclusions have been drawn regarding the psychological impact of streaming on students, suggesting that the effects of streaming on students’ personal development vary according to the context in which streaming is implemented and that teachers play a key role in mediating the adverse effects of streaming upon students.
Schools that prioritise enabling socio-economically disadvantaged students may consider that streaming is linked to low academic performance for students from poorer backgrounds. When the reported outcomes of streaming are compared with the goals of the Australian curriculum, some discrepancies arise. The Australian curriculum prioritises “consistent high standards for what all young Australians should be learning”, “intercultural relationships and respect”, “development of empathy for others and understanding relationships,” and the development of a personal capability where students are “creative and confident”. International research about the effect of streaming on student academic, social and psychological outcomes poses questions for researchers and educators in Australia about whether or not streaming is congruent with our explicitly stated national educational goals. While international evidence is readily available, more research is required about the effects of streaming in Australia. Educational researchers and policy makers might also consider whether or not streaming, in an Australian context, helps prepare young people for the fluctuant future described in the Australian National Curriculum.
The importance of how and where streaming is implemented is clear from the differences in research across educational contexts. Preliminary research might simply seek to ascertain the streaming methods used in various contexts across Australia. Future qualitative research into streaming that is contextually based in a case study approach will provide more detailed insights into how streaming affects students. Earlier research shows that teacher-expectations influence student results, particularly at the class level (Jussim & Kent, 2005; Rubie-Davies, 2007, 2010), but research has yet to explore this effect at the secondary level where students are often streamed across classes. Teachers’ perspectives of streaming can be researched further, inquiring into how these perspectives affect practice across streamed and un-streamed settings. Such studies might further consider how variations in practice related to streaming influence student outcomes.
The vast majority of international research finds streaming to be disadvantageous for students academically, socially and psychologically. However, researchers in Australia have often focused on the benefits of streaming for high ability students without giving attention to how streaming affects those grouped in the middle and bottom groups (Kronborg & Plunkett, 2008). Future research would benefit from including the whole range of students affected by streaming. In particular, disadvantaged and minority groups within Australia could be given as much consideration as they have in the research in other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.