Composite classes can provide significant benefits. It allows greater flexibility for meeting the children’s social / learning needs - as well as matching teacher styles and strengths to make sure we are able to provide the best learning environments and outcomes for all of our students. We often find that older students/tuakana thrive with leadership opportunities and actually build self-esteem as they become role models to younger/teina classmates. Younger students aspire to do work like the older students in the class and get to mix with a wider range of students. They all develop their leadership and skills in collaboration and empathy. We all know that younger siblings/peers can also show older siblings or peers a thing or two! Role models and leaders can come from both the younger and older children; the children who excel at these traits do so irrespective of their age.
In terms of school organisation and class numbers, this increased range of classes also provides greater balancing of class numbers. You may be aware that some years we can have significant differences in class numbers, as students do not enter school in exact groups of 25, as well as the addition of new enrolments throughout the year.
A hypothetical example of this is: 80 Year 3 students divided into 3 classes = approximately 26 students per class.
In that same intake year we may have 100 Year 4 students divided into 3 classes = approximately 33 students per class.
However 180 Year 3/4 students divided into 6 classes will average 30 students per class.
Reduced transition and change every year for our students ensures greater focus on learning. Where appropriate, students may stay with the same teacher for two years, ensuring less time required at the start of the year spent on 'relationship building' as the current teacher already knows the student and their needs. The key to high quality teaching and learning remains with the quality of the relationship with the teacher.
There is significant research that clearly identifies a range of benefits for the students. Research, both in New Zealand and overseas, has shown that there are no detrimental academic effects from composite classes but many additional benefits.
A major review of international research into multi-age classes was undertaken by Veenman (1995). He investigated 56 studies in 12 countries including Australia, looking at the cognitive and non-cognitive effects of multi-age and single-age classes. He found that there were no differences found with respect to Maths, Reading, or language and that with respect to attitudes towards school, self-concept and social adjustment, students are sometimes advantaged by being in multi-age classes instead of single-age classes. Further research has shown that students in composite classes experience enhanced social development. They are more confident, can operate better as part of a group or team, are more aware of others, develop their independence as learners and are better problem-solvers. They also make friends outside of their standard age-groups which, as we know as adults, we don’t work with people of the same age so mixing ages at school over different year levels is a small step in mirroring real life.
There is no empirical evidence for any assumption that student learning is hindered in composite classes. Ultimately, whether students are in composite or Year group classes, it is not the age combinations that matter.
What matters is the quality of teaching and learning and the relationship between the child and the teachers.