Mixed-year groups: A right good mix

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By Sue Cowleyeducational author and trainer

Original article published 22 June 2009

Teaching a mixed-year class presents many challenges but it can also boast huge rewards

children working together in class

Primary schools come in all shapes and sizes, from the large urban school to the small rural primary. Some schools mix up year groups out of necessity; others make a conscious decision to create mixed-year groups as part of their approach to teaching and learning. In any case, mixed-year groups can help a school to stretch its most able children, while focusing support for those who need it. Whatever the reason behind a mixed-year class, successful learning starts with differentiation and personalised target setting for each child.

Challenges and advantages

Sara Chidzey, teacher at Stanton Drew Primary School, Somerset, is experienced in working with mixed-year classes. ‘You’ve got to get to know the children first,’ she advises. ‘I quickly get a feel for the levels they’re at, usually within the first week.’ One particular challenge with a mixed-age class is the danger that the more able children may not be stretched as much as they might be in a single-year class. Sara suggests targeting the older children with more challenging questions, for instance by using increasingly complex vocabulary or more complicated techniques.

Working with a mixed-year group can also have many advantages. For example:
  • The class size can be smaller than average, particularly in a small school.
  • Older children act as role models.
  • Typically, there’s more of a ‘family’ atmosphere within a mixed-year class.
  • Able children can be pushed to work at a level/year or two above the norm.
  • The situation mirrors the home setting with younger/older siblings.
  • Transitions between years and key stages are generally much smoother.
  • Teachers become highly skilled at differentiation – a key skill for teaching success, whatever the type of class.
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