One of the choices parents need to make in applying for primary school places is whether they want a large or small school, and then if they’d prefer mixed year group class or single year classes. Some parents prefer children to be in a full year class, others don’t mind, or even welcome them. But if you’re sitting on the fence, and it’s going to sway a decision, hopefully this post will share our experience and provide more insight into how it might work if you’ve never experienced multi grade classes before.
Personally, I’m on the side of ‘generally it works well’. But I do think it depends very much on the teachers and school, and how it’s managed. As well as the child themselves, and where they sit in the mix.
My experience of mixed year classes
I went to a large primary school, around 350 children back then. We had 3 classes across 2 year groups. 2 were single year group, then the middle class was the mix of the youngest top year, and oldest of the lower year group. I was older in the year so was always in with the older year group when in a mixed year class. I think I probably learnt more in that class than I did when I was in a single year group class, because I had more people to try and beat in tests. And I don’t recall them teaching any differently to the 2 different year groups in the class.
Roll on 30 years and N is in a small village school where they have 2 year groups to a class. Year 1s get split with a few who need a bit more support before moving up, staying in with the reception year but being taught at their year level. When N was in the lower year 1 group it worked well for him because it gave him a better transition moving up to class 2. And he was still able to be in with all his year group for subjects outside maths and literacy. They gradually moved them all in together once they’d got their reading and writing ability higher.
The downside was that he wasn’t with many of his friends who’d mostly moved up. I felt he did miss out on not being in that class, he potentially missed out on lots of much higher level work that his peers were getting taught. He also didn’t like being in with the younger children; there really is a big maturity difference between reception and year 1s. But overall it worked well and once he was in year 2 the mixed classes have worked well.
Now he’s in key stage 2 and in a year 3-4 class. The tables are set out based on how the children work at the different subjects – maths, english and topic. While they can ask for help from the teacher and TA, they can also ask other children on their table for help. They work in pairs and individually, and work might be adapted slightly if they’re in the older year.
They tend to cover a different theme for the week in maths, so over the 2 years they’ll cover it a couple of times in both years, and topics are probably on a 2 year rotation so every child hits each topic area once.
Our school also do a lot of external activities – sports or performing arts based, collaborative workshops or competitions with other schools in the catchment or area. Sometimes the whole of key stage 2 are involved, sometimes the class. Other times it might be just the year group, or a selection of children.
They have plenty of time with their peers, and the mixed year classes also mean children can mix easier with other children from the different years. Because of the small school size, playtimes tend to be by game rather than year groups, so a lot of different year groups muck in together playing tag or other games. N is much friendlier with children in the years above him, than the years below – for instance when he was year 2 in a year 1 and 2 mixed class, he only really had 1 friend in the lower year group which was due to tennis rather than school. Outside of school friendships from tennis and camping are mostly with older children as well, so that’s what he’s used to.
Benefits of multi grade classes
1. For younger children, they can try and emulate what the older year group can do.
2. For older children, they can learn from helping their classmates. And for the youngest in the age group, they benefit from not always being the youngest in the class.
3. Removes age hierarchies and more mixing of year groups.
4. Opportunity for work to be covered a second year
5. There’s no proof that permanent mixed year classes in a school are detrimental to a child’s education compared with a single year group class.
Watch outs with multi grade classes
1. Where there are too many year groups in a class – a school near us used to have reception, year 1 and 2 together. As a parent I wouldn’t want my 4 year old in with nearly 8 year olds.
2. Potentially harder work for the teachers, having to teach a wider difference in abilities
3. It’s been seen that where the mixed year group classes change each year dependent on school roll, this can have a detrimental effect on the schooling, as it gives the impression of a temporary class where children are just put because there’s no permanent class. It can mean teachers are less able to teach a multi year class as well as those who always teach mixed year groups.
4. You’d want to have strong teachers and an empathetic group of students who could appreciate the differences in abilities in their classmates and support each other, rather than picking out those who might struggle or who’re a lot younger.
Ultimately the success of mixed year classes, like any school, depends on the ability of the teachers to work with a variety of different needs of the children. But it’s working for us.
Does your child’s school have multi grade classes? How have they found them or did you have concerns about them at first?