How to support teaching and learning in a mixed-age classroom

Gary Wood

Gary Wood

Date icon


Have you ever wondered what it is like to lead or teach in a school with mixed-age classes? Planning to teach a mixed-age class can be very daunting, with many components to consider. In this blog, curriculum adviser Nicola Marriott explores how to navigate the pros and cons of mixed-age classes to get the best learning experience for your children and offers a sample mixed-age model curriculum to get you started.

Why schools choose mixed-age classes 

A mixed-age class has a single teacher and more than one year group of children. Factors such as a change in pupil admission numbers (PAN), reduced budget, falling numbers, pedagogical concerns, social hierarchy development and staff workload often mean headteachers must decide to organise school classes this way. Each school’s circumstances are different; some, in the most challenging of circumstances, may even have a combination of these factors. 

Challenges and benefits of mixed-age classes

Mixed-age classes can bring both challenges and benefits to a school. Here are some of the most common.


  1. Mixed-age classes often have a wider range of abilities due to the broad age ranges within a class. Because of this, the teacher needs to plan for various learning pathways. They will also need to consider the support needs and starting points of the different groups of children. In such cases, teachers must ensure they know children’s prior learning to build on it effectively. A strong curriculum progression framework can support this, as pathways for learning are clearly defined from the start to end points of the curriculum. Consequently, children can join and progress through the learning pathway in the appropriate age-related trajectories. 
  1. Parents and carers often feel unsure about their child being in a mixed-age class, asking questions such as, ‘Will my child get the same attention and teacher time as the older/younger children?’ ‘How is it possible to teach four different year groups at once?’ Being able to confidently answer such questions is hugely important in helping to give parents and carers peace of mind. 
  1. A change in cohort numbers is one of the biggest challenges for a school, as class structures can change from one year to the next. In this case, schools need robust assessment and tracking systems so that as class structures and curriculum plans change, teachers are fully aware of children’s prior learning and achievements.    


  1. One of the critical benefits of multi-age classes is the opportunities children have to build diverse and healthy relationships with children of different ages. For example, older children can be role models for younger children, especially in modelling interpersonal skills, independence and social behaviours. When older children work with younger children, they have opportunities to learn nurturing behaviours. In both cases, children can show a notable increase in self-esteem and confidence.  
  1. Younger children in mixed-age classes also benefit from a broader range of pedagogical approaches, such as cooperative learning between older and younger children, fewer limits on learning by assumed ability, more independent learning and more teacher flexibility toward individual needs. Strategies for achieving these opportunities are outlined in more detail here

Types of mixed-age models 

There are many different types of mixed-age curriculum models. These include multi-year rolling programmes, overlapping year groups, overlapping Key Stages, whole Key Stages and changing cohort numbers. Each type brings with it its unique pros and cons. Understanding the differences will help you make important decisions about which model to use and how to teach your curriculum. Here are some brief descriptions of each mixed-age curriculum model. 

  1. Multi-year rolling programme 

A multi-year rolling programme is often the most straightforward curriculum model. This is where there are two-, three- or four-year groups in one class. In this model, the teacher will teach a rolling programme or a series of cycles, depending on the number of year groups. The children will achieve the national curriculum outcomes by the end of the rolling programme, and the teacher will differentiate for the year groups in the class.

  1. Overlapping year groups 

An overlapping-year group curriculum model is when a school has one year group split between two classes, for example, Year 3/4 and Year 4/5. This approach will result in children in the same year group having different pathways through the curriculum. In this case, I recommend following a rolling programme for all the year groups involved and, for example, implementing a three-year rolling programme using curriculum content from years three, four, and five.

  1. Overlapping Key Stages 

Overlapping Key Stage models is one of the most challenging. This is particularly true in countries where the national curriculum expectations in subjects differ for each Key Stage. In such cases, the curriculum must be underpinned by a coherent sequence of knowledge and skills so that the expectations are transparent for each subject and year group. For example, within history, KS1 children would focus on personal history, significant times, people and places from a local, national and international perspective. In contrast, KS2 children would focus on the impact of specific historical periods on modern-day life. Schools in Wales following the Progression Steps have different boundaries; however, there is a smoother transition within the Curriculum for Wales

  1. Changing cohort numbers  

Where schools have changing cohort numbers, the curriculum must be flexible and agile. Having a clear understanding of the different pathways through the curriculum and having robust assessment and tracking systems in place should ensure no detrimental repetition and that all children receive a broad, balanced and sequenced curriculum. If the school has determined the sequence within each year group, it can easily map multiple learning pathways.  

Strategies for mixed-age classes 

  1. In all cases, having a robust progression framework is critical for effective mixed-age curriculum models. A robust framework means that curriculum pathways can be formed and adhered to for the children’s best interests, whatever the circumstances. The following points highlight some strategies for tackling curriculum planning for mixed-age classes.
  2. When planning for a mixed-age class, teachers must decide on the length of the rolling programme. The length of the programme must allow each child full access to the requirements of the national curriculum. For example, if there are two-year groups in the class, there will need to be a two-year rolling programme. If, for example, your school has three overlapping classes with four-year groups, then a four-year rolling program is necessary.  
  3. Any mixed-age class requires a skilled teacher. A skilled teacher needs to ensure an appropriate pace for the lesson and decide on the right amount of content and learning points for each age group. This includes the teacher being aware of the children’s concentration span and cognitive load. Making sure there are clear links with prior learning and building on this is essential. In some cases, when tailoring learning to younger children in a group, tasks may need to be broken down into smaller parts, allowing time for children to revisit and consolidate knowledge and skills encountered in the lesson. 
  4. While it can be challenging to manage learning in a mixed-age class, encouraging children to become more independent can be a useful strategy for maintaining a calm and purposeful learning environment. This is especially true if the teacher needs to work with a focus group or individual children who need support. Having well-established routines and learning resources, such as dictionaries, thesauri, pencil sharpeners and access to the internet, can be a great way of encouraging children to develop their independence. 
  5. Mixed-age classes often present excellent examples of cooperative learning. Organising children into mixed-ability or mixed-age groups with varying strengths can be useful for some learning tasks. For example, carrying out a science investigation or playing a spelling game. Teaching children how to work together will develop their ability to work as a team, problem-solve and communicate. Teachers can provide further support and scaffolding for a particular learning need.
  6. Planning open-ended and problem-oriented tasks is a helpful strategy for mixed-age classes. This will allow children to challenge themselves and work at their own pace. A vital component of this strategy is the teacher’s use of open-ended questions to increase pupil engagement and move their learning forward. Moreover, asking targeted questions appropriately will enable all children to contribute. 
  7. Finally, in any mixed-age class, the teacher must prioritise and establish effective formative assessment to better guide children’s learning and identify their strengths, weaknesses and misconceptions. This allows the teacher to plan further activities that enable each child to progress. 


In recent years, there has been a lot of focus on the sequencing and progression of learning. This is due to an increased awareness of cognitive science and Ofsted’s focus on acquiring knowledge. This has increased the pressures on schools which, through no fault of their own, have mixed-age classes.  

It is crucial, therefore, for schools that have mixed-age classes to have clear pathways for each group and effective strategies for planning and teaching. It is also essential that where mixed-age classes exist, effective assessment procedures are in place to ensure teachers know what children have already learned and what should come next in their learning. 

How we can help you

Curriculum Maestro is designed to support teachers with mixed-age classes, having a comprehensive progression framework of skills and core knowledge and a range of sequenced curriculum models that you can adapt to meet the needs of your school.  We also provide support to help schools map their children’s learning journeys through the curriculum, no matter how complicated. 


For further information, get in touch with us to discuss your mixed-age needs.


Hargreaves, 2001; Hoffman, 2002; Hoffman, 2003; Little, 2007 and Stone, 1998.