I’ve received number of e-mails this week from parents pleading with me not to establish composite classes in their schools. A composite class is one where a primary school class is composed of children from more than one year group, e.g. P3/4 composite class.
The common theme in all the e-mails is that if I care about children then I can’t allow this to happen. I should probably point out at the outset that my own children were taught in composite classes. On first being notified of compositing I have to admit to being concerned – despite my own experience as an educator. As parents we tend to like the status quo – we don’t like the idea of change – especially change which seems intuitively risky.
Whilst I understand the reflexive reaction that many parents have towards composite classes the issue often has the potential to whip a storm of fury all based upon the supposition that the quality of education will suffer. When looked at from a certain perspective you can see how this appears to be a convincing and logical argument – which can be captured as follows:
“Children in non-composite class are all the “same age” and can be more effectively taught by a teacher than a class made of of children from two different year groups.”
However, when one considers the reality of this situation most “normal” classes are made up of children who have an age range of 12 months. Yet given the arbitrary way in which we identify cut off dates for entry to school – its very possible for children who are born days apart to be in separate years groupings.
As I have explored before such range of ages can mean that in child development terms there can be a gap between children of between 24 – 36 months. Chronological age does not equate to stage of development – any of us who have had our own children can testify to that.
The reality is that a composite class will often have a less of an age range than a “year group class” – as we group the class by birth date, e.g. an age spread of a less than 8 months.
Yet compositing can also strike fear into some teachers – particularly those who have never taught such a class grouping before. I recently spoke to very experienced head teacher about this and she told me that there is no more differentiation required in a two year group composite class than there is in a single year group class – in fact because of the closer age range there might even be less. Of course some of our smaller East Lothian schools have composite classes composed of up to four years groups – now that is challenging but as I’ve described before can lead to truly stimulating learning situations.
To return to my e-mail correspondence – I do care about children (that’s why I’m in the job). I know it goes with the territory and it’s why I get paid but people seem to think if they apply enough pressure that they can get more money for their own school. It’s my job to advocate for all children in East Lothian – not just those whose parents might be able to mount a campaign to change a very fair system for allocating teachers to schools. The reality is that an average teacher’s salary – with on-costs such a pension etc – is £36,000. One extra teacher for one school means that this money must be taken from another school (93% of our education budget is devolved directly to schools).
Last point – no parent has ever complained about compositing once their child has moved into such a class – only before.