As I have mentioned before in previous blogs, I currently teach a mixed age Year 3-4 class and when it comes to maths I follow a joint Year 3-4 curriculum which is then repeated the next year. A much more detailed description of this approach can be found here. Over the 4 years that I have taught in this way, I have regularly seen children making really significant progress in their second year in the class and I strongly believe that a substantial contributory factor is that they are given the chance to overlearn the concepts that they worked on in Year 3.
Having discussed the approach I use with others on Twitter, I soon became aware that I wasn’t alone in teaching mixed age classes in this way, so I wanted to find out a little bit more about the views of others to see if they matched my own findings. As a result, I created a short online survey a few of months ago and asked if people who follow a similar approach would be kind enough to complete it. I was very grateful for the 18 responses that I received and even though this is a small sample size, the results have certainly been interesting.
The 18 respondents covered the entire primary age range from Reception to Year 6 (see table below). However, by far the biggest group represented was teachers of Y5-6 classes. One teacher had followed the approach with both Y4-5 and Y5-6 classes, while another taught what was described as Y1/Y2 (SEN). Whether this means a class of Year 1 and Year 2 children who all have special educational needs or whether it is a Year 1 cohort combined with a group of Year 2 children with special educational needs is unknown.
|Year groups||Number of respondents|
|Y4/Y5 and Y5/Y6||1|
The first question asked was ‘How would you assess the impact that teaching a mixed age curriculum and repeating it the following year has had on the children?’ The results were as follows:
It is worth noting that one respondent who chose ‘No real impact either way’ had only been following the approach for 1 term and understandably felt that it was too early to draw any conclusions (this was the teacher of the R/Y1/Y2 class). Although the overall figure for teachers who found the approach to be either positive or very positive is 77.77%, it is worth delving a little deeper:
- 92.3% of Y5/6 teachers chose either positive or very positive
- All 6 respondants who found the approach to be very positive were teachers of Y5/6 classes (one of these was the respondent who taught both Y4/5 and Y5/6). This represented half of the Y5/6 teachers who responded
- The one respondent who felt the approach was having a negative effect was the teacher of the Y1-2 (SEN) class
The number of years of following this approach varied from 1 term up to 15 years, although 1 respondent, when asked how long they had been teaching in this way, simply answered ‘Years!’ 2/3 of the respondents had followed the approach for at least 3 years. All of those who described the impact of this model as ‘very positive’ had followed the approach for 3 years or more, while those who had described the impact of this model as either ‘negative’ or ‘no real impact’ had experience ranging from 1 term to 3 years.
The next question asked was:
As you can see, there was a mixed response but I was interested to note that almost half the responses suggested that all groups benefited and that the most popular single group was the children who had previously been seen as middle attainers.
More than one way to follow an overlearning model
When I teach a mathematical concept, I firstly teach the objectives for the lower year group before moving on to the related objectives from the higher year group. However, I was aware from initial feedback on Twitter that some teachers teach the objectives for just one of the year groups and then provide either the challenge or support needed for the children in the other year group. As a result, I asked this question: ‘Which of the following best summarises how you deliver your mixed age curriculum?
For those who chose ‘other’ the following explanations were given:
- Dependent on the objective, teach the overall objective e.g ‘to round’, or we do flip flop teaching if there is no clear link. Starter for one year, teach the other. Swap one y do independent work and other work get support and extension in their learning.
- A mix of all 3 above options, with flexible grouping, depending on children’s prior knowledge and understanding
- I teach the Y6 objectives but also look at how the Y5 fit, in the first term I try to ensure Y5 obs are firmly consolidated. The only thing I didn’t teach Y5 this year was multiply fractions by fractions, they practised something already taught with a TA.
- Start low and when they hit a wall they go off and work at that level. Then when everyone settled go back and ouch (sic) on / close gaps.
- Separate objectives
What I have taken from this is that there are a variety of ways in which a repeated mixed-age curriculum can be taught, with each one still offering the potential benefits of overlearning.
Assessing the impact
I wanted to gauge whether this model had resulted in improvements to assessment results. 5 teachers responded by either saying it was too early to tell or they didn’t have any data to compare it to and one respondent said that there hadn’t been any improvements to assessment results. However, all the other responses were positive and are detailed below:
‘We regularly outperform targets and national average in a school with high PP, FSM and SEN.’
‘The older year group benefit’
‘Yes – especially for the younger children.’
‘Progress seems to accelerate in the younger year group.’
‘Improvement across all groups – they had very low starting points.’
‘Improved confidence and scores.’
‘All children get chance to recap and Highers can extend.’
‘Over the year middle to low attainers have improved with standardised score results.’
‘Provides a foundation for Y5 that enables them to achieve higher in Y6 than I believe they would have done with 1 years teaching.’
‘Yes as learning/teaching in previous year groups has been inconsistent and children are now on-track or further on.’
‘Yes – 100% pass rate 50% GD last 2 years’
The respondents were given the opportunity to comment on any benefits of following this approach. Not everyone responded but interestingly, the only teacher to describe the approach as negative did go on to say ‘The older year group show more confidence in their second year.’ These were the other responses:
‘Over learning. Fluid differentiation. Peer support. Clear gap analysis. Easy to build up to greater depth.’
‘The younger children in the mixed class out-perform children of the same age in the single year group classes.’
‘Y5 have already been exposed to much of the Y6 curriculum so already have a bit of knowledge to be built upon next year. Those in Y6 who had struggled were given time to consolidate work from previous years.’
‘Improved attainment for all.’
‘Chances to consolidate and deepen learning.’
‘The children who find certain maths objectives difficult in Year 3 become very confident in year 4.’
Looking at the results from what is admittedly a very small sample, it is good to see that there are other teachers out there in completely different settings who are seeing the same benefits from following this model that I have witnessed. This clearly isn’t a one-size fits all approach and, without the data to back it up, I am left pondering whether this model has the potential to be as successful in Key Stage 1 as it appears to be in Key Stage 2. I would also be very cautious trying to apply it to mixed age classes which contain more than 2 year groups. However, there is clearly a need to address the challenge of following a mastery approach in mixed age classes, so much so that Maths Hubs around the country are, this year, providing work groups looking at this very issue. Hopefully, the findings if this survey back up my belief that this approach offers at least one potential way forward.
Thank you once again to everybody who took part in the survey.