Mixed age classes are formed in most schools partly because of the way in which the pupil roll is configured in any given year (i.e. – the numbers of pupils in each different year group). It is not uncommon for this situation to change from year to year, as the sizes of year groups can vary quite dramatically.
It is fair to say that different situations pertain in all schools. Many schools in Hertfordshire have less than 200 pupils and may therefore arrange groups in 4 or 5 classes depending on the school. Each one of these schools has no choice but to form one or several mixed age classes. In none of these schools is the formation of mixed age classes of itself an issue or a concern. The overwhelming majority of primary schools in Hertfordshire (large and small) have formed mixed age classes, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that being in a mixed age class has any detrimental effect whatsoever on the education of children in that class.
Sometimes this may happen within smaller settings or when the needs of the children lead this. However, the maximum size of any class with infant children will usually be restricted to 30 children, whilst this is more flexible in KS2.
Definitely not! The ways in which learning and teaching are organised in primary schools means that teaching and work is tailored to the needs and current achievement levels of individual pupils. The Staff at the school are very experienced at planning and delivering work to match the needs of mixed age learning. They provide challenge for the more-able children and support for those needing more help whichever year group they are currently in. Furthermore, the school plans educational experiences for pupils in all classes in ways which ensure good progression and continuity, which ever year group or class they are in.
Although care is taken in allocating pupils to classes their social needs are not ignored, in general terms it is likely to be good for children to experience classes with different classmates so that their circle of friends and acquaintances can be extended beyond the traditional age boundaries. Where new classes are formed, it is of course, perfectly feasible for schools to create opportunities beyond the standard curriculum for pupils to maintain contact with friends who have been allocated to other classes (such as at lunchtimes, special activities, PE etc.) Certainly when children transfer to secondary school, new friendship groupings in different subject areas become a fact of life, and this situation is generally welcomed by many children. The school will make every effort to ensure that year groups are not split every year.
Children benefit in many ways from the opportunity to become an ‘expert’ for the younger children and a positive role model which the younger children often aspire to. This ‘vertical’ grouping often nurtures thinking & problem solving skills, vocabulary & social competences. There is often a greater sense of cooperation and opportunities to work with a wider circle of peers. The children usually have several years with the same teacher and this provides a perfect opportunity for the teacher to develop a deeper understanding of a child’s needs and strengths and is therefore in a stronger position to better support the child’s learning.
In turn the child knows their teacher well, understands the expectations they have, and can build upon a level of trust that encourages them to ‘have a go’ or try something new.