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Mixed Age Classes

Mixed Age Classes
The number of pupils in our year groups fluctuates over time, based on the needs of our community.  For the school years 2021-22 and 2022-23, we ran mixed classes in Year 3 and 4, and in Year 5 and 6 and adapted our curriculum to meet those arrangements. 

Going forward we are anticipating that we will have some mixed-year groups in the school. 

Below are some answers to 'frequently asked questions' by parents about this.  

Why and how has the decision to mix year groups 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.
  • 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.

Why do mixed classes happen in different year groups at different times?

  • This is because of the fluctuating numbers over time that we have coming to Nursery Hill.  
  • With the housing developments in the local area and the numbers of primary-aged pupils across the whole town, we regularly review the need for places and our catchment area with the Local Authority. 
  • 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:

o   Planning and preparation is the same for all staff in the team and can be better shared out.

o   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

o   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.

o   Mixed grouping can enhance and nurture deeper thinking and problem skills in Maths

o   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

o   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.

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 contact the office to make an appointment to speak to the class teacher.
  • 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Nursery Hill 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.  

Learning and the curriculum

Will the separate Y3/4 and Y5/6 curriculums be covered?

  • At Nursery Hill 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 Egyptians” in Year 3 and some will learn about it in where they are in Year 4.
  • 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 and Y5/6.
  • 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).

How will pupils be sat in classes?

  • At Nursery Hill, 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.

How will spellings work?

  • Spellings are chosen from a master list of Year 3 & Year 4 and Year 5 and 6 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 or Y6s 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.