Relationships are 'key'.
What a tremendous amount of interest we have had in Streeton Primary School over the last couple of months. This is reflected by the great many parents that have selected Streeton for their children in 2018. Not only is this extremely exciting and something we are terribly proud of but a real testament to the fantastic programs we have in place and the tremendous teachers we have delivering them.
One thing has become apparent when we have conducted tours with prospective parents and that is their apprehension about composite classes. Below we have compiled a piece that will help parents understand a composite class and the fact that although negative perceptions about composite grades exist, research shows students can thrive in multi-age classrooms.
What is a composite class you might ask? Composite classrooms, in which children from two or more year levels are combined within one grade, have become common in many schools around the world. They define classes in which students of varying ages, abilities, or interests might be grouped together. Extensive research shows it makes no difference to performance whether students are in a straight or a multi-age class. Furthermore, it is the teacher and their relationship with the students that plays a key role and is significant in the development of students.
Despite favourable research regarding student cognitive and social growth in composite classrooms, negative perceptions persist, particularly among parents. Many fear their children will be unable to keep up with work; will have fewer friendships; that younger children will be overlooked or that older children will not be sufficiently challenged; that children with learning difficulties will suffer more anxiety; or that the curriculum for each year level will be inadequately covered. According to experts, education is about more than academic achievement and age is not an accurate predictor of a child's development. Wide-ranging student abilities exist in children of the same age, and not just in composite classes. Multiple studies conclude it makes no difference to performance whether students are in a straight or a multi-age class. Experts agree the most important factor in determining how well a student does is the quality of the teacher.
Composite education is backed up by the theory of teaching by ‘stages, not ages’. Students are able to work to their own developmental level, rather than grade expectations. Composite classes have become a common feature in many urban Australian schools. In Victoria, almost half of all state primary students are taught in composite grades. This theory that children should be taught ‘by stages, not ages’ points out that in life, age stratification does not exist. As it has been established, the age of a student does not define the learning outcomes. What does play a significant role in the positive outcomes is more dependent upon quality teaching than anything else. The quality of teaching, combined with student interest and engagement, are considered more important than class structure, whatever form it may take. Research, which has been predominantly conducted in primary schools, suggests there is no visible difference between composite and straight grade classrooms in terms of academic performance.
Here are some key benefits of composite classes:
At Streeton Primary School, where needed, composite classes will be the chosen structure. This is primarily in response to the problem of uneven grade enrolments; for example, when there are too many students to form one ‘straight’ grade but not enough to form two. Combining students in this way is an appropriate solution that not only allows us to ensure more consistent class sizes, but also enables us to address gender balance issues within each class and maximise school and teacher funding and resources. From year to year the class structures at Streeton Primary School will differ. For example, in 2016 we had 4 Junior School classes – 2 Foundation classes and 2 composite 1/2 classes. This year however, the numbers lent themselves towards 3 composite F/1 classes and 1 Year 2 class. It was established that this was going to cater for the needs of individuals in the best possible way, so therefore became our preferred structure.
As already mentioned, it is strongly researched and believed that grade structure is immaterial and schools should be providing a ‘differentiated’ curriculum anyway: one that caters to all children as individuals, according to their needs. At Streeton Primary School children are grouped, based on our extensive assessment schedule, in accordance to their needs. This is particularly evident in Reading and Writing tasks. In addition to this, in Mathematics students are grouped not only in accordance to their needs but much of what is taught is hands-on and open-ended allowing students to operate at their own level. All of our groupings are fluid allowing students to work in a group that best suits their learning needs.
But what of the downside to multi-age classes? To date, Australian research into composite classes has failed to uncover any significant negatives. Teachers actually manage workloads for a range of ages and abilities in any given class, not just composite classes. There will always be a mix of ages and abilities whether it is a straight or composite class.
The nature of a teacher and their relationship with his or her students dictates the impact they will have on them. If a teacher wants to make a lasting difference on their students, they need to forge productive teacher student relationships. Students who have positive relationships with their teachers are more likely to do well at school, and teachers who actively build such relationships have a strong effect on the lives of their students. Strong teacher student relationships shape the way children think and act in school. When a teacher has a good relationship with their students, they are more likely to feel positive about class and about school in general. They are also more willing to have a go at hard work, to risk making mistakes, and to ask for help when they need it. At Streeton, we see this as our priority and from this our class structures are determined. We have extremely dedicated teachers who foster positive relationships with our students and we are confident this in turn will develop good learners. Research shows that constructive teacher student relationships have a positive impact on students’ academic results. At Streeton, we have highly successful teachers who have the ability to maximise the learning potential of all students in their class regardless of the structure. This is evident in our outstanding NAPLAN data. Developing positive relationships between a teacher and student is the fundamental aspect of quality teaching and student learning.
Whatever choices Streeton Primary School make in relation to grade structure will most definitely have the students and their learning needs at the forefront of the decision making process.