ClASS STRUCTURE - Information FOR PARENTS
In recent years the number of children attending our school has dropped from a peak of 170 to around 120. This has largely been due to falling birth rates in the area. This has necessitated a reduction in classes from 7 to 5 and the need to have some mixed year groups.
How will we cover the National Curriculum?
We follow the National Curriculum which offers a spiral curriculum and means that pupils can be taught within mixed years.
We currently have:
Two mixed year classes in Reception / Year 1 (Oak class) and Year 1/2 (Willow class).
The National Curriculum splits its programmes of study in Key Stage 2, into a Lower key stage 2 (years 3 & 4) and an Upper key stage 2 (years 5 & 6).
In Key Stage 2, we have a mixed year class in Year 3/4
We will have a mixed Year 5/6 in 2023-5
We separate the Key Stages and would prefer not to teach a class across Key Stage 1 and 2 (i.e. a Year 2/3 class) or across the Upper and Lower Key Stage two (i.e. a Year 4/5 class) because of the way the National Curriculum is planned.
Please go to our website to find how our curriculum is broken down into year groups and detail of subjects delivered. https://www.northleach.gloucs.sch.uk/Curriculum/
Will my child make the necessary progress? How will my child be taught?
Our priorities as a school are to ensure all pupils make progress academically, that they are safe and that their experience at the school is one to remember positively. There is no evidence to suggest that being in a mixed year class has any detrimental effect on the education of children in that class.
Our teachers and planned curriculum ensure that teachers skilfully aim lesson content at the different year groups in each class. Mixed-year classes enable teachers to revisit simpler content with pupils who need it. Ofsted report that mixed year groups benefit pupils, as the mix of ability actually helps children to learn better and quicker.
Currently and historically, all the teaching at Northleach has consistently been judged to be either good or outstanding which is why we have such good results. Our pupils continue to make good progress in both the smaller and larger classes of 30 because of the excellent intervention and support offered by our staff and you at home, this was recently verified Ofsted.
What educational research is there on mixed year classes?
The use of HLTA support has a greater impact on attainment than reducing the class size according to government research from 2011.
Why can’t we assign an HLTA to a class?
As outlined in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, we need to ensure a teacher is assigned to each class or group of pupils. We use our HLTAs to deliver lessons when a teacher has planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time and this is under the direction and supervision of a teacher. Therefore we would be unable to assign an entire class to an HLTA.
How are class sizes considered?
Sizes of class are based on our PAN (Published Admissions Number) which are decided by county. Our PAN is 25, which is the number of pupils that county recommends we admit into each age group. In previous years we have been able to run individual classes for each of our year groups as the year groups have been approximately 25-30 pupils per year.
Every year we review the numbers in each year group, as well as the individual needs of pupils in the group and our staffing
With Governors we model different scenarios for the year, and the following years. We consider the needs of the year groups alongside the financial implications of the different scenarios. The law states that there must not be more than 30 children in an infant class (that is, classes containing reception, year 1 and year 2 children).
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. It is not uncommon for the way classes are organised to change from year to year as the sizes of year groups can vary quite dramatically.
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 and problem solving skills, vocabulary and social competences. There is often a greater sense of cooperation and opportunities to work with a wider circle of peers.
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 Northleach.
In 2011 we had around 170 pupils, making it one of the largest primary schools in the North Cotswolds. With little housing fluctuation and a lower birth rate, our number of pupils on roll is hovering at between 117 and 124 so this is a drop of 50 pupils and has affected the way we can structure our school.
To run our school in a single class / year ideally we would need 25 – 30 pupils in each year group
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 is 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 mixed year classes 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.
- Twice 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 email your child's current class teacher 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.
“You get to work with different people. I like how it changes being with older children, then younger children year to year.” Sienna Y4
“I really like it because I get to sit next to new people and we learn from other children’s work.” Stella Y2
“I like it because you get lots of different ideas. You get to see how other people do things. You can learn new ways of doing things and make new friends.” James 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.
- Younger years benefit from being exposed to work from the year above 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 older children are often able to pass on the benefit of experience in class discussions.
- We have strong values as a school and work with all pupils on this through daily interactions, assemblies, worship and specific RSHE 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 in 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 Northleach 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 curriculums be covered?
- We plan and teach the wider curriculum (e.g. 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 when 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.
- In maths 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.
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. We carefully consider the staffing of both Teachers and TAs across the school as a whole.
- Staff ‘differentiate’ activities which means that pupils have slightly different tasks, or more support or challenge, to ensure that pupils practise the skills that they need to move on at their level. This is the same in all classes, mixed or not.
- On occasion, year groups are taught separately.
How will pupils be sat in classes?
- Teachers set up their classrooms in the way that best facilitates learning for their classes. Some prefer tables in groups.
- In most lessons, pupils sit in a specified place, e.g. 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 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.