The decision to mix classes
The Senior Leadership Team, with Governor support, have made the decision to run 5 mixed classes in Year 3/4 next year. Many parents have questions about how the classes will run, and the similarities and differences between single year and mixed year classes. Parents also asked how the children who have been in mixed classes, or will be going into classes, feel about this, so I have incorporated their thoughts into the web page.
I hope you find it helpful.
Why has the decision to mix classes been made?
- Every year we review the numbers in each year group, as well as the individual needs of pupils in the group, the staffing and the classes we have. We then model different scenarios for the year, and the following years, and discuss this with Governors. We consider the needs of the year groups alongside the budgetary implications of the different scenarios.
- Having the current Year 2 pupils spread between three classes was possible due to the smaller numbers in the current Year 1. Had there been 6 more pupils in the current Year 1 group, we would have had to have a mixed Year 1/2 class this year.
- We have to consider the best ways to meet the needs of all of the year groups. There is never one simple answer but a key factor is that we do not prioritise the needs of one year group above the needs of another.
- Single year teaching is more straightforward and is generally how we seek to arrange our classes.. However, mixed-year teaching is our preferred option when we feel that it will better meet the needs of our pupils.
What were the alternatives?
- 4 separate year classes
- 2 x Y3 classes with 36/37 pupils in each class and 2 x Y4 classes with 34 pupils in each class
- This was the cheapest option (i.e. needs less teachers and TAs) and so could have been argued as the best option for the school but would have disadvantaged both year groups due to large classes.
- 5 separate year classes
- 3 x Y3 classes with 24/25 pupils in each class and 2 x Y4 classes with 34 pupils in each class
- This would have disadvantaged the Y4 pupils due to class sizes. It also brought into question the need for a Teaching Assistant every morning within the Year 3 classes, which would have disadvantaged them.
- Having just one mixed class
- 2 x Y3 classes with 29/30 pupils, 2x Y4 classes with 27 pupils, 1 mixed class of 28 pupils
- We ran classes this way this year. The biggest piece of parental feedback that we had was the emotional challenges that this brought for pupils - even those who were not phased by being in a mixed class, or who had parents who were happy for their child being put in a mixed class. (See more below)
Why do mixed classes happen in different year groups at different times?
- This is wholly because of the fluctuating numbers over time that we have coming to Spurcroft. With more housing and growth in the town the Local Authority asked us to take 75 pupils in each year group five years ago. This would have led to a mixed class structure across the whole school as it meant enough children for 2 and a half classes in each year group.
- With a drop in housing development and the numbers of primary-aged pupils across the whole town going down, we have reviewed the need for places and our catchment area with the Local Authority.
- It is clear that having 60 places in each year group at Spurcroft is enough to meet the needs of the town, so our number is being reduced to this in September 2020. This does not affect year groups already in school, i.e. we will not be reducing of size of any current year.
Why have you chosen 5 mixed classes rather than 1 mixed class?
- We have chosen to give all the children in Lower Key Stage 2 the same class organisation as that is a fairer system for all.
- We feel that by mixing all of the classes children will not feel different to their peers.
- The needs of the whole of the year groups can be better met with this structure.
“I think Year 3 and 4 should all be mixed class then it is fair that everyone goes in a mixed class and not just some people. I was in a mixed class in Year 1 & 2 and it was actually really nice as I got to be with a different year group. Lots of the Year 1s were very kind to me. Even though I was bigger they still played with me a lot. It was really actually quite nice. I have been in a Year 3 class this year, but will be in a mixed class next year. It’ll be good.“ Tristan Y3
- Staff are aware of the complexities of teaching mixed classes as well as the problems that could arise if teaching is not effective. However, they have identified the following benefits:
- Planning and preparation will be the same for all staff in the team and can be better shared out.
- Children have a great opportunity to build independence in their learning. In this way, children do not always reply on adult support to access a task and become more confident independent learners
- 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. However, this is not used as a strategy if it will mean the older child miss out on their own learning opportunities or that the younger children feel inferior to their older classmates.
- Mixed grouping can enhance and nurture deeper thinking and problem skills in Maths
- In English mixed grouping allows for a wider range of vocabulary to be taught and children to learn stronger social and verbal competences. Children can become strong communicators using language often beyond their current year group
- There can be a greater sense of co-operation and opportunities to work with a wider circle of peers and opportunities to build friendships from across different year group
How will the situation be monitored?
- Teachers regularly assess pupils, both informally (from day to day) and formally (with tests and other assessments). Where pupils need extra help we work on creative ways to support this. This could be in class or through intervention groups. This is the same whether within a mixed or single year class.
- Teachers regularly compare books across the team to compare outcomes and develop consistency between different teachers.
- Members of the Leadership Team frequently monitor lessons and books, and this includes observations of lessons. Where things could be improved, staff are supported in this.
- Three times a year we hold Pupil Progress Meetings which focus on monitoring assessment information and ensuring that pupils are making the progress we expect based on their previous attainment. Information from these meetings is shared with Governors as part of their monitoring role.
- Staff Appraisals are linked to pupils outcomes, progress over time, and progress towards targets
- Governors monitor the progress of pupils termly, as well as over time.
Will you need mixed classes in Year 5 & 6?
- At the moment we don’t know for certain, but it is likely if numbers remain the same.
- Pupil numbers fluctuate over time. However, from September 2020 we will not need to take any more pupils into these year groups, so if there are pupils who leave us to move schools then the situation may change.
- We will monitor this each year and go through the process described in the first question.
How is the impact of the pandemic being considered?
- We are very aware that the pandemic and time missed from school will have created isolation and emotional and social uncertainty for many pupils and families
- Academic gaps are expected across all year groups and across the country. As always, we will work to ensure that pupils have the best support we can give them to move forward.
- This a key consideration in planning the whole school curriculum for 2020-21 and we are working with the Local Authority on how we can best support all pupils coming back, both in the short and long term.
- Our support for pupils with emotional needs is strong, and as a Leadership Team we are working at the moment on supporting staff to meet the emotional needs of pupils returning to school.
How will the pupils be chosen for the classes?
- Year 3 and Year 4 pupils will be evenly spread across the classes. With 73 Y3s and 68 Y4s, that means 14 or 15 Y3s, and 13 or 14 Y4s in each class.
- Staff have clear focuses when planning classes. The main focus is that the classes are balanced, with a similar spread of attainment across each class. We look carefully at the academic make up of the class both for Writing and Maths.
- In placing pupils we make sure that children are in small groups so that are working at the same level of attainment. For example, it is important that there is a small group of pupils who are currently working at Greater Depth in Maths, so that the pupils have others around them who will be working on similar tasks, and they are able to have challenging conversations. This needs to happen at every level across the class.
- As we place pupils we consider friendships and where a change of social group might be helpful.
- With the need to ensure that point 1 is addressed, it is not possible to have large groups of friends moving together.
“I have been in classes when I only knew a few people. It can be hard to start with when you don’t know many people but we have times to talk in the new class and we make new friends. You can see your old friends at break and lunchtime. I think it is better to make new friends - now I think I know everyone in my year and I have more people to play with.” Eloise Year 4
How do children feel moving into a mixed class?
- Moving classes can create a feeling of anxiety in all children. Some things make the anxiety worse, for example moving up into a new key stage or moving into something that feels more unknown.
- Parents can help greatly by acknowledging that nerves are normal and helping children to think about times they have experienced change and the good things that have followed it.
- If a pupil is very anxious then the school can give extra support with this. Please email your child's current Team Leader to discuss it, or contact the office.
- I have spoken to a range of pupils this week about their feelings and experiences of mixed classes and quoted them below. These are genuine quotes and reflect how pupils feel. Most children’s first thoughts were about the social aspects of being in a mixed class.
“It is was cool being in the mixed class. You don’t have to just play with your year group.” Charlotte Y5
“It’s good being a Y4 in a mixed class. We see more people that we haven’t seen before. I don’t think about us being different ages. I am a shorter Year 4 and there are some Year 3s who are taller.” Conner Y4
“Being in a mixed class isn’t bad. Year 3s and Year 4s get on because we are a similar age. I like that I know people in both years because it gives me more people to play with. We do some things just with Year 3s – like Outdoor Learning – and it is nice. When I had a problem with friends I told my teacher and she sorted it out.” Rhys Y3
“It is the teachers that are important not the mixed year. At my last school I was bullied a lot and that was a single year. I haven’t been bullied in a mixed class.” Tristan Y3
How do the younger children feel in a mixed class? Do they feel they are behind & compare themselves to the older children?
- In our experience, pupils are aware that there are differences between their own skills in all areas of life, as it is natural to compare ourselves to others. Staff will support pupils to deal with these feelings, they will explain that each year group has different expectations and different work to do.
- Year 3s benefit from being exposed to Year 4 work without the expectation of completing it.
- Children are given specific age-appropriate outcomes for lessons so that they are clear about what they need to achieve.
- Expectations for children are often different and this is not always solely linked to age. Not every child is working at their age expectation. Lessons and activities are differentiated for all classes – mixed year group or not.
“We do see that children are doing harder work, but that is because they are in Year 4. It is an older year. When I was in Early Years it was easy work, but now I do harder work like fractions. In the class the teachers tell us what is Year 3 work and what is Year 4 work. We know what we have to do.” Corben Y3
“I don’t worry when I see Year 4 work. I know I will do that next year.” Rhys Y3
How do the older children feel in a mixed class?
- Most enjoy the mix and children carve out their own friendship groups – sometimes they sit in mixed age and sometimes with children from their own year group.
- In lessons, children understand that their work is another ‘step on’ and need to achieve specific objectives.
“I feel fine about going into a mixed class. I’m not worried. I will be a Year 4 and there will be some younger children.” Lily Y3
“Sometimes you have to be more responsible because you are older. Sometimes the teacher starts the younger children on their work first – but they gave us some work to do on our own which was good for us. And the TA could help if we were stuck.” Poppy Y5
Will pupils’ emotional needs be picked up, and pupils nurtured in a mixed class?
- Emotional needs are picked up in all the usual ways and the Year 4 children are often able to pass on the benefit of experience in class discussions.
- We have a strong pastoral approach in school and work with all pupils on this through daily interactions and specific Personal and Social lessons.
- There are a number of children in school with complex or high-level emotional needs and we work with children and families, in different ways, in order to help support the pupils.
“Staff notice if a child is worried. That’s the same if it’s a mixed class or not. If children say they are worried, or put their hand up, they will definitely get help – that would be the same in every class. When teachers mark books they see who is falling behind and make sure that they get help the next lesson.” Poppy Y5
“It would help if parents told their children to ask for help if they are worried. Parents can encourage children to put their hand up, or ask to speak to the teacher at break. Also – if someone goes home worried then parents can tell the teacher and the teachers always help.” Charlotte Y5
Do the pupils in mixed classes get on well?
- It is normal for friendships to emerge and develop and all classes. Pupils tend to find their own social groups. All children have occasional difficulties with friendships and social skills in all school years, and a key focus for education at Spurcroft is supporting pupils to learn to develop strong personal and social skills. In our monitoring of behaviour, we have found no significant differences between pupils in the mixed or single year groups.
- In all classes though, pupils tend to work in small groups which are based more on academic need than friendships. This also helps pupils get to know other people.
“It’s nice being surrounded by older or younger children. It’s a bit like having brothers and sisters. If they are older, they help you, if you are older, you can help them.“ Poppy Y5
Learning and the curriculum
Will the separate Y3/4 curriculums be covered?
- At Spurcroft we plan and teach the wider curriculum (eg science, history, art) lessons as a 2 year cycle across the school to accommodate mixed class teaching. We ensure that all areas of the National Curriculum are taught across the correct phase (Key Stage 1, Lower Key Stage 2, Upper Key Stage 2). This means that, for example, some children will learn about “The Great Fire of London” in Year 1 and some will learn about it in where they are in Year 2.
- English lessons have always been the same for both year groups although the finer teaching objectives for each year group differ.
- We have been using the White Rose mixed-age planning materials this year which means that pupils in the class all learn about the same concept at the same time, but are taught the appropriate content for their year group.
“I've experienced mixed year groups before and all the same old concerns come up, however I have to say that as a younger child it pushed him to work to a higher level and as an older child it pushed him as he didn't want any younger ones being better than him!” A Parent
How do lessons work in a mixed class
- Most lessons take place as a whole class although staff plan creatively so that pupils are taught what they are needed in the way that will help them learn best.
- Sometimes teachers teach one year group at a time for short periods within a lesson, while the others do an activity led by the Teaching Assistant (TA) or work independently. This is how all classes at school work, but this can happen more in the mixed class. Because of this, we have carefully considered the staffing of both Teachers and TAs in Year Y3/4.
- Teachers plan activities to ensure that the same children aren’t always working with the Teaching Assistant or independently.
- Staff ‘differentiate’ activities which means that pupils have slightly different tasks, or more support or challenge, to ensure that pupils practice the skills that they need to move on at their level. This is the same in all classes, mixed or not.
- Discussion groups are sometimes run in year groups but not always – it depends on the nature/subject of the discussion.
- On occasion, year groups are taught separately (eg Outdoor Learning, music tuition).
“It’s basically the same as being in any other class – its just the year groups that are different. Lessons work the same way. In the mixed classes, TAs are very supportive and help a lot. Sometimes the Teacher helps one group and the TA works with another.” Poppy Y5
“I think parents might worry that children in the older your group will be doing easier work, but they don’t, they do the work for their year and they are challenged.” Charlotte Y5
How will pupils be sat in classes?
- At Spurcroft teachers set up their classrooms in the way that best facilitates learning for their classes. Some prefer tables in rows, others prefer tables in groups.
- In most lessons, pupils sit in a specified place, eg year group tables or with others working on the same task. For other lessons, where appropriate, pupils can be given the choice of where to sit.
- Of course, in September 2020 we will be taking into account the Governement's COVID-19 arrangements and our own Risk Assessment.
How will spellings work?
- Spellings are chosen by the teaching team from a master list of Year 3 & Year 4 words.
- Simplified lists are given to pupils who need it, but overall Year 3s will have the same words as other Year 3s and Year 4s have the same as other Year 4s.
- Children will be tested on their own spelling list.
How will you ensure that Y4s don’t repeat work they have already done?
- The curriculum content will be different from last year, as we plan on a 2 year cycle.
- Where the National Curriculum gives single year group objectives, these will be covered by the correct year group.
How will trips be managed?
- Most trips will take place as a class. The number of classes that can attend at one time is dependent on the place that we are going to.
- The Year 4 residential trip will only be for Year 4s.
“People have to know that it will sometimes be harder for the teacher being in a mixed class as they have more things to think about. But the teachers have nearly all of them had experience and if they haven’t, they will learn from each other. ” Poppy Y5
Feedback from a parent in the current mixed class
My child has been a year 4 child in a mixed year 3 / 4 class this year. I had a number of concerns about this initially relating both to educational and social development which you may too and I hope that my experience might go some way to making you feel a little better.
Not being a teacher myself, I could not understand how one teacher could possibly fully meet the needs of children of all abilities over two whole year groups. As the year has progressed, I have worried much less about this as it has become clear (particularly with my child now working at home where I’m seeing the year 4 set work and expectations for myself) that she is confident and competent in using year 4 methods and concepts. When in school, she would regularly explain how the year 4 children were given different tasks, focusing on different skills to the year 3 children even though they were being taught together. The teachers are well trained to ensure that all children are taught the relevant material regardless of how many different areas they have to cover and highly skilled at ensuring that all children receive classes which will challenge children at all levels within those year groups. Teaching Assistants are also an extremely valuable resource in mixed year group classrooms enabling various groups to be overseen by a trained adult covering a range of skills and abilities at one time.
My bigger concern was the social aspect and how my daughter would manage to retain her year 4 friendships, how she would cope being in a class with so many children who were new to her having only ever been in classes with her year group previously. I had read some articles which suggested that LKS2 is the age when children start to form their lasting friendships and it concerned me that my child would be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Again, as we’ve been locked down, I’ve been able to see for myself that her year 4 friends haven’t forgotten her. The phone calls/skypes/facetime chats have been with a variety of children from across the year 4 classes and they have continued throughout her time away from school which tells me that she still fits in really well with children of her own age.
As an extra benefit, she also now has friends in year 3 who she misses dearly at the moment and she has really enjoyed being an older member of the class, showing the younger children how LKS2 works. Over the course of the year there have been plenty of times where the classes have come together for certain lessons and activities, ensuring that children of the same year group work together often. She also often plays with children from various different classes on the playground, largely other year 4s but also those in year 3 right up to year 6 during their free time.
Possibly the biggest hurdle which we faced with the mixed class was the idea that just a few children were placed in this situation. This concern was the only one that my child voiced herself. This was the fact that only a small number of children had been singled out to be part of only one mixed class.
As adults, we can understand that children aren’t chosen for a mixed class because they haven’t met targets for the previous year but children of that age are starting to analyse situations that they find themselves in and in their minds, the only reason that they would be singled out for this class was that they hadn’t performed well enough the previous year which is very unpleasant to see a child go through and has quite a negative impact on the children involved.
Moreover, other children in their year drew the same conclusions which further impacted how those few children felt about their class placement and their confidence in their own abilities. From the end of the first day in the mixed class, most of the children felt settled in the class itself despite any misgivings that they may have had at the start of the day, the one issue which ran on longer was the feeling that they alone were being separated.
Overall, despite my initial reservations, I am confident that my daughter has made good progress in the mixed class this year and she has been generally happy to be there but the transition would have been a lot smoother if all of her friends had been in the same position.
Feedback from a child in the current mixed class