“Our job is to teach the students we have. Not the ones we would like to have. Not the ones we used to have. Those we have right now. All of them.’
Dr Kevin Maxwell
Teaching, as many of us experienced in our own primary school years, has changed significantly over the years. Educators work hard to know each child as individuals, how they learn, what they know and then plan to take them to where they need to go next in their learning.
In all schools there are myths and perceived stigmas attached to single or split classes. Some parents believe that when placing students in a split class, schools place high achieving, academically able students in the lower year level of a split with less academically able students in the higher year level. This is a stigma which is often perceived by parents if their child is placed in a class where they are in the higher year level.
At City Beach Primary School we do not structure our classrooms in this way. Our placement process is both an art and a science. Staff use what they know about each child to develop learning communities that are socially, emotionally and academically balanced. Teachers use profiles created for each child to support their decisions about the best placement. Students also have the chance to outline their friendship circles to also support teachers in the placement process.
We focus on the dynamics of a classroom rather than whether it’s a straight or split classroom. Ultimately our goal is to decide the best possible combination of students to create cohesive classrooms that are kind, safe and fair. We know that positive learning environments are critical for children to feel like they belong, are known, happy and successful in their learning.
Another common fear for parents with a child in a split or composite class is that they will fall behind – that the teacher’s attention will be split between the two years and they’ll get less overall learning time with their teacher. The research, however, doesn’t agree. Multiple studies conclude it makes no difference to performance whether students are in a straight year group or in a multi-age class. Experts agree the most important factor in determining how well a student does is the quality of the teacher and their teaching.
Over the past 3 years and in the shaping of our future direction in our next business plan, our focus has, and will continue to be on strengthening teaching practice across the school. Our teachers teach children not year levels. Our staff use an agreed whole school lesson design, innovative teaching strategies, collaborate with colleagues and integrate learning areas to deliver quality teaching and learning opportunities for all students. The year level that they are in is immaterial as teachers know the curriculum content and deliver a differentiated curriculum according to their students’ needs.
The negative attitudes around split classes exist as these are often thought about as ‘second best’ options or the ‘poor relation’ in comparison to straight year level classes, only formed when absolutely necessary and not created as soon as numbers dictate they are not needed. Our philosophy around the importance of knowing each child and their needs, together with the staffs’ drive to work collaboratively to improve teaching practice across the school, ensures each child makes year on year progress regardless of class structures.
There will be times when as a school we create split year level classes to improve the dynamics and learning environment of the classroom we are able to create, despite numbers and resourcing. Research shows split classes actually enhance development; students becoming more confident and assertive, and learning to operate as part of a team with improved independence and problem solving capacity.
Thank you to the parents who have contributed valuable information for us to consider in the placement process. While there is no guarantee that your requests will be granted, I want you to know and understand the level of thought and consideration that goes into creating dynamic classrooms that support the success of your children.