Addressing Students' Needs

Differentiation, Personalisation, Extension, and Support.

The St Mark’s Strategic Plan describes our priority to support students as lifelong learners who are committed to continuous improvement and equipped for their futures; and to develop differentiated, innovative and research-informed teaching and learning. Below is an explanation of what this can look like at St Mark’s, in practice, with a particular focus on differentiation, personalisation, extension, and support.


‘Differentiation’ is the teaching practice of adjusting planning, teaching, learning environment, learning process, learning product and assessment to address the diverse needs of learners, tapping into students’ interests, readiness, pace, knowledge, and skills. Teachers at St Mark’s work responsively to provide varied opportunities for every child to acquire knowledge, develop skills, extend their thinking, and demonstrate their understanding. Some aspects of differentiation are visible to parents, such as assessment documents, marking rubrics and feedback such as that on SeeSaw and SEQTA. Many aspects of differentiation occur in the classroom. For example, teachers deliberately group students within classes, use pre-assessment, regularly check in on students’ understanding, use a range of technologies to enhance learning, and provide a range of learning materials. When differentiation is happening well, it is seamless, intuitive, and based on teachers’ keen knowledge of their students, their professional expertise, and their practised professional judgement in the moment.


While differentiation is about teachers knowing their students and making responsive adjustments, ‘personalisation’ is learning in which students know themselves, are active agents in their learning, and make learning choices. At St Mark’s, students are given opportunities to personalise their learning by being supported to follow their passions, initiate learning projects, design learning processes, shape learning pathways, and engage in solutions to authentic problems (following OECD, 2018; Zhao & Watterston, 2021).

The St Mark’s Learner Attributes provide a framework for students to be owners of their own learning through effort, self-regulation, executive functioning, goal setting, reflection, communication, and collaboration.

The St Mark’s Future Ready Curriculum provides learning that is innovative, interdisciplinary, and relevant, and that encourages students to actively engage in their own identities and the world around them, developing transferable skills and capabilities that will support their success and wellbeing in an uncertain future.

Class Composition

Class composition is one way to help us to ensure we are providing the best education and opportunities for each and every student. This is supported by teachers planning carefully, teaching intentionally, providing a range of resources, providing meaningful feedback, and designing purposeful assessments.

What are setting and streaming and are they effective?

The term ‘setting’ is used to describe grouping students into ability-based or achievement-based classes for specific subjects. The term ‘streaming’ is used to describe grouping students into ability-based or achievement-based classes for all or most of their lessons, so that a student is in the same class group regardless of the subject being taught.

A research report by the UK’s Education Endowment Foundation (2018) notes that on average students experiencing setting or streaming make less progress than those taught in mixed attainment classes. They conclude that streaming and setting are not effective ways to raise student achievement. In a study of over 11,000 Year 7 students, Becky Francis and colleagues (2017) found negative impacts of attainment grouping on those in low attainment groups, including poorer academic progress, lower self-confidence and poorer perception of themselves as learners.

In a 2016 paper, Olivia Johnston and Helen Wildy note that grouping students into ability-based groups has few advantageous effects on students’ educational outcomes, and that it can increase disadvantage for students placed in lower streams academically, socially, and psychologically. They note, however, benefits of streaming for higher ability students. This is supported by Bailey (2005) who argues that ability grouping of students produces positive gains for gifted students, and that gifted students benefit from a more rapid pace of learning, independent work, and to work with like-minded and similar-ability peers.

Research indicates:

  • There are benefits for high-achieving and high-ability students from being grouped together for learning with like-students.
  • There are negative impacts on set or streamed low attainment groups, academically, socially, and psychologically.
  • Once students are in a lower stream it is very hard for them to move.
  • Overall, grouping students into achievement or ability groups is likely to have little effect or negative effects on student progress and self-concept.

Class Composition at St Mark's

Classes for Differentiation and Support

In Years K-5 students are placed into mixed ability class groups, with Learning Diversity and Inclusion staff working alongside class teachers supporting students to receive support and enrichment as required. Each child, regardless of their academic achievements, is provided with opportunities to extend their thinking,

In Years 6-8 there are six streams or class groups, with seven English and seven Mathematics classes to allow for targeted instruction in these areas. In Year 6, the seventh English and Mathematics classes are called 'Engage' and provide support for students in their transition into the Secondary school, as identified through testing and other data. For Years 7 and 8, the Heads of the English and Mathematics Departments, alongside the Heads of School, work to group students in ways that allow them the best opportunities for academic success and mobility. This takes into account the abilities and attainment of students, as well as class size appropriate for student needs.

In Years 9 and 10, there continue to be seven English and Mathematics classes. For those students identified as requiring additional support, English Engage and Mathematics Engage provide smaller classes, the capacity for measured pace of learning, and targeted support for students likely to be suited to a General pathway.

Classes for Extension and Enrichment

In Years K-5 children identified as gifted, talented, and high ability may be provided with additional enrichment and extension opportunities beyond that which is already offered in the class.

In Year 6 there is a streamed Academic Extension class which is also a Homeroom group, allowing pastoral care and transition to be a focus for all students in Year 6.

In Years 7 and 8, from 2022, Extension becomes more specialised, with one Extension class in English/HASS and one Extension class in Mathematics/Science per year level. In Years 9 and 10 students begin to specialise as they select elective subjects and begin to consider post-school pathways. English Extension and Mathematics Extension continue to provide opportunities for higher ability and attainment students to excel, and prepare them for pathways into subjects such as Literature, Mathematics Methods, and Mathematics Specialist. Teachers of Extension classes devise programs, pace, learning, and assessment to those with higher ability and attainment in their subjects. This approach allows Extension students to work at a more rapid pace, and to engage in higher reasoning and challenging concepts.

In Years 11 and 12 students refine their future career aspirations and select individualised pathways to University or Vocational/Industry.


Bailey, S. (2005). Module 6: Gifted and Talented Education Professional Development Package for Teachers. Australia Department of Education, Science and Training.

Education Endowment Foundation. (2018). Setting or streaming. Retrieved from:

Francis, B., Connolly, P., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Mazenod, A., Pepper, D., Sloan, S., Taylor, B., Tereshchenko, A., & Travers, M. C. (2017). Attainment Grouping as self-fulfilling prophesy? A mixed methods exploration of self confidence and set level among Year 7 students. International Journal of Educational Research, 86, 96-108.

Johnston, O., & Wildy, H. (2016). The effects of streaming in the secondary school on learning outcomes for Australian students–A review of the international literature. Australian Journal of Education, 60(1), 42-59.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2018). The future of education and skills: Education 2030. OECD.

Zhao, Y., & Watterston, J. (2021). The changes we need: Education post COVID-19. Journal of Educational Change, 22(1), 3-12.