Split classes – should I be worried ?

multiage 2Class selection at the beginning of the year is always a time of anxiety for parents, and sometimes students. Which teacher will they get? Will your kids be with their friends ? Will they be in a split class ? The last question seems to be the one that causes the most worry for parents as we question if our kids will be disadvantaged both socially and academically. As a kid in a country town, I was never in a split class, but lots of country kids will remember having to be in multiage classes because there weren’t enough kids for individual years. However, my husband went to high school in Greenwood and they had split classes also – so I guess you can’t pick it.

So what are the issues around split classes. My son was in a split class last year (he was a grade 3 in a split 2/3) and I will admit to being worried to start. I wondered how the teacher would split her time teaching between the two grades, would my son loose contact with his other friends in the straight classes and would he be forgotten amongst the competing demands for the teachers time; finally would he be pushed enough because he didn’t have as many of his peers to keep up with.

Well, he survived the year. Despite my fears, he was not socially isolated, although I think it was a challenge for him in the beginning. He actually made some good friends with the Year 2’s and great friends with the other Year 3 kids. Do I think he suffered academically – Well, I made an effort to check in with his teacher about his progress throughout the year. Any difficulties he had were not really related to being in a split class and were reflections of his normal strengths and weaknesses at school (some unfortunately inherited from his parents – like terrible spelling). He was in a small Year 3 cohort in that class, and I would have preferred he had more contact with the larger group, but as I am discovering this year, it has made no difference in his ability to socialize or keep up in class.

That was my experience, and no doubt other parents will have similar and different experiences. What do the experts have to say about split classes –

From a teachers point of view:

Research has shown that students in composite (multi-age) classrooms are at least as successful academically as their typical school peers. Professor Barbara Pavan’s October 1992 article for Educational Leadership pp.22-24 titled “The Benefits of Nongraded Schools,” reviewed 64 research studies on nongraded (multi-age) schools. Pavan found that 58% of those students in multi-age classes performed better than their peers on measures of academic achievement. 33% performed as well as their peers, and only 9% did worse than their peers. Pavan also found that students in multi-age settings were more likely than their peers to have positive self-concepts, high self-esteem, and good attitudes toward school. Her review of the research also indicates that benefits to students increase the longer they are in a nongraded setting, and that “underachieving” students also benefit from being in multi-age classrooms.

What else does the research say about the benefits of composite classes?

  • Older students provide a model of intellectual development as well as of appropriate behaviour for the younger students.
  • Interaction between less able and more able benefits all individuals both academically and socially.
  • Younger students are able to seek help from a wider range of people rather than relying on the teacher to help them all the time.
  • Older students are able to practise the skills they learn by teaching them to the younger students.
  • There are less behaviour problems because younger students integrate quickly into established class routines as older students model appropriate behaviour.
  • Students are more confident, can operate better as part of a group, are more assertive, develop a greater respect for individual differences, become more independent learners and better problem-solvers.  They also make friends outside of their standard age-groups.
  • Older students can benefit from helping younger students in cooperative learning situations.
  • Composite classes  build self esteem and personal competence  and provide  opportunities to build social skills in a context more reflective of the social interactions within families and the community.
  • Changing the focus of learning from achieving a certain  grade  to individual personal best, alters the nature of the learning experience to lead children to value learning and the learning process.
  • Students experience a wider range of roles including leadership and responsibility within a composite learning environment.

Composite or split classes will be made up of two year levels as in a Year 6/7.  Although a student might be chronologically a year older or younger in a composite class, and the learning path may be different, but the destination of achieving their full potential will be the same.


Conclusions drawn in NSW following a review of multi-age classes in 1997


Across all schools, common elements of success included the degree of commitment of teachers, the acceptance and support of parents and above all the quality of classroom teaching. In organising classes, schools reported successful practices which varied according to the circumstances surrounding the decision to form the class. Where schools form classes primarily because of administrative necessity,  considerable attention is given to allaying the concerns of parents and attracting teachers to the proposed class. Where schools are forming multi-age classes across the school primarily for philosophical reasons, success is attributed to managing change strategies, including extensive training and development for teachers and parents, to allow them to achieve a shared belief in the benefits of multi-age classes and a strong commitment to their success. In regard to successful teaching practices for multi-age classes, schools reported a range of ways in which students were organised in groups and taught, to match the range of teaching philosophies and preferred teaching styles. Although the strategies recommended in programming, teaching and assessing and reporting apply equally to age-based classes, the multi-age class structure can facilitate student-centred approaches to teaching, including flexible grouping of students for a variety of purposes, opportunities for student leadership through peer tutoring, cooperative

learning and technology-assisted learning. The key finding of this report is that the type of class organised will not determine either educational advantage or disadvantage. Important success factors for multi-age classes will include the degree of commitment of teachers, the acceptance and support of parents and, above all, the quality of classroom teaching. Multi-age classes can encourage student centred learning, widen choices for placing students in classes and facilitate the flexible progression of students through a curriculum organised in stages and associated learning outcomes.


So it seems that yet again, the key to our kids getting on in class comes down to our support as parents, and the teachers expertise in the classroom. The more we support and communicate with our kids  and their teachers, the better our kids do. If you have worries about your child class, please be sure to speak with your teacher.


Additional reading: