Most non-government schools will establish single or double stream classes, and limit their student enrolments to fit into and fill straight classes, closing off enrolments when these are full, but government schools do not have the same convenience as we accept all students who live in our zone. In smaller schools, it is accepted that all or most of the classes will be mixed.
In our school, on average only 25% of students will be in a mixed class. This may have created an expectation among some parents that students will be in straight classes, that these are better than mixed classes, and unfortunately for a small number of parents there seems to be a stigma attached to being in a mixed class. There is no evidence to suggest that a student is at a disadvantage being in a mixed class. We carefully structure our classes to ensure that mixed classes contain less academically disadvantaged and behaviourally challenging students, and take into consideration the class’s context, whether the majority is in the lower or higher group or it is evenly balanced.
Some curriculum areas require specific year level content to be covered, but in the major subjects of English and Mathematics, it is more important that the teacher plans and teachers according to individual students’ ability levels and needs rather than the outdated approach of making every child learn at the year level. For example, if a year 5 class was only covering year 5 level work in Reading, Writing, Spelling and Mathematics, some children would be at that level, some well beyond and some well below. We try to structure our classes so the spread of ability levels is similar in mixed classes as is straight ones. In fact in many cases, teachers of straight classes end up with a wider ability range than their neighbour in a mixed. We do not put the lowest ability students "down” into mixed classes, or the highest "up”. There will be some instances where children will feel isolated from their friends when they are placed in a minority group in a mixed class. But this soon passes, and we make sure they have contact with their peers as much as possible, and link them up in the playground.
At Geographe, we try to avoid placing a student in a mixed class two years in a row, although this is not always possible when we need to mix classes up from one year to the next. On a couple of occasions in the past, we have consulted with parents when forming a special group in a mixed class (eg the P-1 class a few years ago) but this is not usual practice for any school. If our student cohort sizes continue to decrease in size as current indications show, the number of classes in our school will decrease and we can expect the ratio of mixed classes to rise. If this occurs students might expect to be in a mixed class slightly more often. Recent cuts to public school funding resulting in reduced teacher allocation, will result in slightly more mixed classes as there is less flexibility to shuffle class sizes.All that aside, these days our teachers are well trained and equipped to cater for the needs of the students in their classes, be they single or mixed year levels, as we are focussed the ability level of the students, not their age. Where there is a need to teach the year level content, in subjects such as Science and History, we have planners and resources to help teachers of mixed classes achieve this. While it is more convenient for teachers to have straight classes, we are well prepared for mixed classes these days.