Mixed Classes at Blackfield
For the school year 2021-22 we will be running 5 mixed Year 3/4 classes.
Below are some answers to 'frequently asked questions' that parents may have 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, the following years, and discuss this with members of the Academy Council and Trust Board. 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.
- For the year 2021-22 we will have 66 pupils in Year 3, and 70 pupils in Year 4 (136 in total). We have capacity for 180 children in total, so we are over a class and a half short of pupil numbers across the two year groups. This means our budget doesn't allow for 6 full time teachers across the two year groups.
What were the alternatives?
- 5 separate year classes
- 2 x Y3 classes with 33 pupils in each class and 3 x Y4 classes with 23/24 pupils in each class
- This was feasible for the Year 4s, but would have disadvantaged the Year 3 year groups due to exceptionally large classes. We also would not be able to fit 33 children in a classroom as we only have space for 30 children in each class. Even if we could fit 33 children in a room, as soon as one more child joined, the year group would have to be split and merged with Year 4 midway through the year which would be highly disruptive to all children.
- 2 x Y3 classes, 2 x Y4 classes and 1 mixed 3/4 class
- This would be unfair to those children in the mixed 3/4 class and would suggest an element of 'setting' the classes which research shows has a negative impact on child development.
- 6 Separate year classes
- 3x Y3 Classes with 22 children in each class and 3 x Y4 classes with 23/24 children in each class.
- This is not feasible due to the budget constraints of the school. State-funded schools cannot afford to run such small classes when there is a different option.
Why are mixed classes happening in Years 3 and 4 now and not in other year groups?
- This is wholly because of the declining birth rate across Blackfield and Fawley during recent years. Blackfield's pan (this is the capacity of children we can take in each year group) is 60 children (two classes) in Years R, 1 and 2. These classes cannot be above 30 by law. For Years 3, 4, 5 & 6 our pan is 90 (three classes). Blackfield Primary school is the designated junior school for the children of Fawley Infant School, so when both schools have low numbers in the same year group, it poses a problem in Year 3. When you have two consecutive year groups with low numbers from both schools, it results in mixed-age classes needing to be considered.
Why can't Blackfield reduce it's pan to 60 pupils?
- Unfortunately this can't be considered as the children of Fawley Infant School would then be without a designated school in Year 3. Our pan has to remain at 90 in Years 3, 4, 5 & 6 to enable all the children to have access to a local school.
Do other schools do this?
- Yes! Lots. Although this hasn't happened at Blackfield before, it happens up and down the country regularly. It can happen in small village schools who sometimes have to teach 3 or 4 year groups at once and also to bigger schools, similar to Blackfield who have varying pupil numbers in certain year groups.
What are the benefits?
- 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:
- There will be at least 6 teachers (2 work part-time and share a class) involved in sharing out planning, which is more than double the amount in some other year groups. As all classes are equally split, it allows teachers to spend less time on preparing resources and more time to adapt lessons to meet their children's needs. In some schools teachers have to prepare all the resources for every single lesson which takes time away from adapting lessons to children's needs.
- The team! The teachers in the Year 3/4 team have been strategically chosen to best support the needs of the children in the year group. Within the team is a school English Leader, Maths Leader as well as staff experience from Year 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2. Together, they bring the knowledge and skills needed to best support the children in the classes.
- The children in Year 4 will also benefit from the Year 3 teachers all remaining in the Year 3/4 teaching team. When a child stays with a teacher for two years this is called 'looping' and there is researched evidence which shows the benefits of this. The result of this is that the children are settled with the staff, they know their expectations and the teachers are aware of the children's next steps in learning already. Please click here to read a research article on the positive effects of looping on primary aged pupils.
- Children have a great opportunity to build independence in their learning. In this way, children do not always rely 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’ 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 children miss out on their own learning opportunities or if the younger children feel inferior to their older classmates. This will enable the older children to develop their responsibility, independence and confidence as well as mastering key knowledge and skills.
- Mixed grouping can enhance and nurture deeper thinking and problem skills in Maths.
- The way Reading lessons will be structured will allow additional directed teacher time with each child, which will help children make rapid progress.
- 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
- The younger children will benefit from a 'big-buddy' mentor system to help them transition in to the junior school. This will help them settle in quickly and feel at ease. For the older children this will increase their independence skills and give them an opportunity to develop their responsibility, maturity and most importantly, their self-esteem.
- 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 groups
- Mixing the year groups will allow for additional adult support for the children. By combining year groups the children will have access to more Learning Support Assistant hours.
Is there anything additional being put in place to support the children in Years 3 & 4?
- As well as the additional Learning Support Assistant time, the mixed 3/4 year group will also benefit from additional teacher time to support the children with their core subjects (Reading, Writing and Maths).
- As well as this, there will be additional transition events planned for July and September to help the new classes settle together, form strong relationships with their peers and teachers and get used to their new environment.
- The teachers and the pastoral team will provide additional social and emotional development to the children in Years 3&4 as they settle into their new way of working. It's important that the children build a strong social connection together and have opportunities to express themselves emotionally.
How will the situation be monitored?
- As this is new for the school, it will be a priority for monitoring by school leaders and the Academy Council. 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.
- 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, through the use of new technology or additional adults. 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.
- The teachers in Years 3/4 will have access to frequent meetings with the Leadership Team to discuss the successes and challenges they face and will be supported to ensure the best outcomes for the pupils.
- 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 the Trustees and Academy Council as part of their monitoring role.
- Staff Appraisals are linked to pupils' outcomes, progress over time, and progress towards targets
- The Trustees 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 if numbers remain as predicted, it is likely that we will. Pupil numbers are dynamic and constantly changing. If forecasts stay as they are, then it is likely that in September 2022 Year 5 will revert back to a single aged year group (like they were in Year 3) with the new Year 3 & 4 mixing.
- Pupil numbers fluctuate over time. At the moment our current Year 5 & 6 cohorts are nearly full, so it would be unlikely that mixing these year groups would be an option.
- 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?
- Pupils do have some academic gaps 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 is a key consideration in planning the whole school curriculum for 2021-22 and we are working with the other schools across the Trust on how we can best support all pupils. Our teachers have already demonstrated this year that with innovative approaches and high quality teaching, children can maintain progress and/or make improvements.
- This year pupils have been in mixed age phonics groups and this has resulted in fantastic progress in learning to read for our children.
- We have also seen incredible results where flipped and blended learning has been used effectively across the school with our fantastic IT resources.
- Our support for pupils with emotional needs has always been something we are proud of. We have a highly trained team of staff to help meet the the emotional needs of pupils at school.
How will the pupils be chosen for the classes?
- Year 3 and Year 4 pupils will be evenly spread across the classes. With 66 Y3s and 70 Y4s, that means roughly 13 or 14 Y3s, and 14 Y4s in each class.
- Staff have clear considerations when planning classes. The main focus is that the classes are balanced, with a similar spread of attainment, boys/girls and special educational needs across each class. We look carefully at the academic make up of the class both for Reading, Writing and Maths.
- When placing pupils we make sure that children are able, at times, to work in small groups so that they 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 mastering mathematical concepts, 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. Where possible we will also try and ensure that children are with as many people from their current class as possible. With the need to ensure that point 1 is addressed, it is not possible to have large groups of friends moving together.
How may 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. We pride ourselves on a really thorough transition plan for children and teachers. Children get the opportunity to build their relationship with their new teacher over several sessions and the teachers spend a significant amount of time with each other handing over key information about each child. With children who are highly anxious, the teacher may spend additional time getting to know them in their current class to help foster that positive, trusting relationship.
- As well as the Year 3 picnic and the whole school transition days on 1st & 2nd July, there will be additional transition mornings for the Year 3/4 children in July.
- We have spoken to a range of Headteachers and teachers of schools who have similar mixed aged year groups. They have kindly offered some quotes from pupils and parents that reflect how they feel. Most children’s first thoughts were about the social aspects of being in a mixed class.
“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
“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 – and it is nice. When I had a problem with friends I told my teacher and she sorted it out.” Rhys Y3
“I think parents might worry that children in the older year group will be doing easier work, but they don’t, they do the work for their year and they are challenged.” Charlotte Y5
“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 as I have lots of friends.” Tristan Y3
“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
“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’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
How may the younger children feel in a mixed class? Could 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. At Blackfield Primary School we nurture a 'growth mindset' for every child. This means that instead of viewing learning as 'completing work' or comparing themselves to others, children are focused on their individual next steps, own goals and aspirations and challenging themselves to be the best learners they can be.
- 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 will benefit from being exposed to higher level thinking, a wider range of vocabulary and rich and meaningful conversations from their peers.
- 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 scaffolded depending on the child's needs and differentiated for all classes – mixed year group or not. This is the same for all subjects.
How may the older children feel in a mixed class?
- When we have mixed age groupings in other areas of the school, most enjoy being able to demonstrate their leadership and maturity. Older children are confident to make friends with younger children and enjoy showing them how to behave and what to do if a younger child is unsure.
- In lessons, children understand that their work is another ‘step on’ and need to achieve specific objectives.
- On the playground this gives the children a wider social group and therefore helps the children build their confidence.
Will pupils’ emotional needs be picked up, and pupils nurtured in a mixed class?
- Emotional needs will be picked up in all the usual ways and the Year 4 children will be able to pass on the benefit of experience in class discussions.
- We follow the Thrive approach in school and work with all pupils on their emotional development 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. We also benefit from a wide variety of additional groups and adult support to help children with any social or emotional difficulties.
Will pupils in mixed classes struggle to make friends?
- 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 Blackfield is supporting pupils to learn to develop strong personal and social skills. A key part of ensuring the mixed classes is successful is building in social development opportunities and directly teaching the children social skills at the beginning of the year.
- In all classes though, pupils tend to work in small groups or pairs which are based more on academic need than friendships. This also helps pupils get to know each other.
- At lunch times, children will be able to sit and eat with their friends so they can enjoy the social occasion of eating their lunch together.
Learning and the curriculum
Will the separate Y3/4 curriculums be covered?
- At Blackfield Primary our Integrated Learning Units (ILUs) are different for each year group. We plan and teach the wider curriculum (eg science, history, art), linked with Writing, within these ILUs. As the children who will be in Year 4 in September will have already done the Year 3 ILUs, all the children will learn the Year 4 ILUs, with the specific content being adapted where necessary for the children in Year 3. In September 2022 the children who will then be in Year 4 will then learn the Year 3 ILUs so all children will have experienced the same learning within a 2 year cycle.
- 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 “Digestion and Teeth" in Year 3 and others will learn about it in Year 4.
- English Writing lessons have always been the same for both year groups although the finer teaching objectives for each year group differ.
- English Reading sessions happen at the beginning of the day for the whole school. The teaching of reading is very dependent on children's decoding and fluency (which means that they need to be reading the correct instructional text until they are a fluent reader). Most children finish the phonics programme at the end of Year 2 and would transition to Guided Reading in small groups before then moving to Whole Class Reading later in Year 3. To ensure all children are developing their reading skills, reading will initially be streamed across the 5 classes with some children accessing a phonics group, most Year 3's accessing a Guided Reading group and most of Year 4 accessing Whole Class Reading like the rest of Key Stage 2 children.
- For Maths, we will be 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.
- If you're interested in reading an educational impact report on mixed age teaching of mathematics, please click here.
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 which is either: flipped & blended learning (pre-recorded input by the teacher so the children can watch, listen, rewind and practice taught skills before an adult then works with them), led by a Learning Support Assistant (LSA), 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 LSAs in Year Y3/4.
- Children may also benefit from an additional teacher for some lessons in the morning to take out a focus group to either challenge them further or support a group of children needing more guidance.
- Teachers plan activities to ensure that the same children aren’t always working with the Learning Support Assistant, through flipped and blended learning or independently.
- Staff ‘differentiate’ activities which means that pupils have slightly different tasks, or 'scaffold' learning differently so that a child has more support or challenge to achieve the same outcome. Learning is designed so that the child's individual next step can be secured and that all pupils are able to practice and apply the skills that they need to progress. 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.
How will pupils be sat in classes?
- At Blackfield Primary teachers set up their classrooms in the way that best facilitates learning for their classes. Most of the time this will be with tables in groups so children are able to collaborate and benefit from rich discussion together. On occasions, children may work independently or in pairs.
- At the start of the day, pupils will sit in a specified place, which has been carefully considered by the teacher. After that the teacher will move children around the room seating them in a place which may best support their learning based on their assessment from the previous day's learning. This could be working with a group of children with a similar misconception or working with a child where the pair can work together. We do not have fixed groupings for pupils at Blackfield Primary, learning is fluid and children learn at different rates, so the seating needs to be able to allow the teachers to be flexible.
- Of course, we will be taking into account the Government's COVID-19 arrangements and our own Risk Assessment. At the moment, all children in Key Stage 2 are seated in rows.
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 learning 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.
- Ensuring the highest attaining Year 4's are challenged is something we know many parents may be concerned about. With specified teaching time, additional challenge groups and deeper thinking tasks, the children will be absolutely stretched to ensure they are making progress. The Leadership Team will be working closely with the class teachers to ensure all children are challenged and with the experience and knowledge of the Maths and English Leader I am confident that all children will make appropriate progress.
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.
- Our residential trips are linked to the ILUs we teach your children. So in September they will be learning the Year 4 ILUs so they will attend the Year 4 residential in Swanage. Both the Year 3 and Year 4 residentials are one night long.
Feedback from a parent in another school that has mixed classes
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 lower KS2 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 lower KS2 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.
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.