Composite Classrooms Pros and Cons

composite classroom

Composite classrooms, also referred to as “multi-age”, “multi-grade” or “combined” classrooms, exist when children of varying ages are combined within the one grade. These types of classes are most common within rural schools where overall student enrolments are low. Composite classrooms also exist in larger urban schools when they are faced with the problem of uneven enrolments where multi-age grades offer a practical solution.

It is not uncommon for parents to be concerned about their child being placed in composite classrooms. We have outlined some potential concerns, the advantages of multi-age classes and questions that you could ask to ensure your child’s best possible chance for success.

Potential concerns of a composite class

  • The older children in the grade will become disengaged and held back by the lower level content.
  • Students will be overlooked and not sufficiently challenged.
  • The curriculum for each year level will be inadequately covered.
  • The class size will be too big.
  • Children with learning difficulties will suffer increased anxiety.
  • Bullying may be an issue.

Advantages of a composite class

  • Children in multi-age classes will become more confident making friends across age groups – a skill they will need after school when they are employed.
  • Over time, students become proficient at problem-solving skills and independent learning. Read this article about how problem solving is one of the key skills kids will need in the future for both employment opportunities but also resilience in a changing society.
  • Younger students within a composite grade generally look up to their older peers and aspire to learn out of admiration rather than extrinsic rewards.
  • Older students learn leadership skills and enjoy the mentoring opportunity and sense of guidance that they can provide to their younger peers.
  • Composite classrooms can help bring the school community closer as students get to know children of various ages.
  • The younger students have the opportunity for enhanced learning experiences when they are ready for it.

Questions parents could ask when faced with a composite teaching model

  • Does the teacher have any experience in a composite class?
  • How will the teacher manage to teach more than one level at a time?
  • How does this structure work to effectively support my child’s learning?
  • Does my child demonstrate the emotional maturity to handle this structure?
  • What do you need to know about my child to help cater for their needs?
  • Is my child happy and stable at school?

If you are interested to know about the a study of parents concerns about composite classrooms and how they changed over the year of composite teaching you will find this study helpful. It talks about the pre-conceived ideas verse the actual reality and the resulting changed attitudes at the end of the experience.

Peace of mind

“Straight” grades are made up of students with varying strengths and abilities so in fact by definition – all classes are composite. There is no classroom that exists where all students are at the same level and require the same things, delivered in the same way. So regardless of classroom structure, a child’s education will come down to the quality, effectiveness and commitment of the school and the teacher in charge of managing the class.

Can one teacher actually differentiate for such a wide range of ages, needs and abilities?

Well, every teacher (whether in a composite or straight classroom) should already be providing a differentiated curriculum that caters to all children as individuals and identifying opportunities to extend or support learning. A hardworking teacher can make it work so that the advantages of a composite class outweigh the concerns. An effective teacher will engage all students and students who are motivated and interested will learn whether the class is structured by grade, age, ability, or multi-grade.

Kaitlin Provost

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