About a year ago, I wrote a blog entitled ‘How can the mastery approach work in a mixed-age class?’ In this blog, I put forward the approach that I have now been using for over 3 years with my own mixed age Year 3-4 class and talked about the huge improvements many of my children were displaying when they got to Year 4.

To summarise the approach briefly, all Year 3 and 4 children are taught together in a mixed ability class, moving through the same curriculum at broadly the same pace. They are exposed to both the Year 3 and Year 4 maths objectives throughout the year and the same objectives are then repeated the following year. There’s more to it than that and further details can be found by reading the blog **here**.

Each year that I have followed this approach, I have been really taken back by the progress shown by so many of the Year 4 children as soon as they have started repeating the content that they covered the previous year. In a significant number of cases, children who weren’t seen as being secure on the majority of their Year 3 objectives the previous year, were suddenly showing that they were secure on most of the Year 4 objectives, while other children were given the chance to really deepen their understanding of each concept taught.

Having first penned the blog, I remember asking Clare Sealy for her opinion as to why she thought I was seeing such gains being made. I wanted to know how the approach being adopted affected children’s memory when having to repeat the same maths concepts they worked on a year earlier. Clare explained that the new Year 4 children were doing well because they had the opportunity to ‘overlearn’. She went on to explain that overlearning is something which is ‘rarely done in a mistaken rush to ‘stretch’ higher prior attainers.’

Since the blog was written, another year has passed and yet again, I am seeing some similar results. Over the weekend, I asked on Twitter whether teachers of Year 5-6 classes were able to follow a similar approach, bearing in mind that they have the extra distraction of SATs to consider. I was really heartened by the response as it appears that many teachers are organising their maths curriculum in similar ways and, from the feedback I received, the surprising improvements I have seen when children have repeated content have been witnessed by others too.

Only a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking to a couple of local head teachers and their maths leads about the way that maths is organised in my school. When we got onto the subject of teaching mixed-age classes and repeating the content each year, I was told that, at one of the schools, they had a mixed Year 4-5 class as well as straight Year 4 and Year 5 classes. The mixed-age class repeated the same content for 2 years whereas the single age classes obviously just focused on the objectives for that particular year group. They had noticed that the children going through the mixed-age class were, on the whole, performing better than those going through the single year groups by the time they had all finished Year 5

Of course, all of this evidence is merely anecdotal, but I am convinced that it is more than just a coincidence. So with this being the case, I would like to know whether any educational researchers out there would be interested into looking into this in more detail. What kind of impact does teaching a mixed age curriculum and repeating the same mathematical content the following year really have?

I would never want to second guess what the outcome of such research might be, but let’s just suppose for a minute that clear evidence did emerge that this approach has a positive impact on children’s learning in maths. Would it need to be restricted to mixed-age classes? Would there be anything to stop single age classes from following a 2-year cycle where content is repeated, giving the children the chance to overlearn? I don’t believe so. It might be fanciful to think that this could have the potential to really change the way that maths is taught in this country, but I think that it is definitely worth exploring further.