• Teacher Tips

Mastery Maths: Mixed Age Classes

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Teaching a mixed age class can throw up some problems. Different ages, different expectations, different objectives, different maturity levels. Now with many schools adopting a Mastery approach to teaching Maths where tasks are differentiated by outcome rather than ability this could be one of the most troublesome areas.


Babcock LDP's 2016 report, 'What does teaching for mastery look like in a mixed-age class?' was a small scale action research project that explored teaching for mastery in mixed age classes, with a focus on how to teach so that children move 'broadly at the same pace' for their year group.

If you teach mixed age classes, will do in September, or are a school leader, this report may be of value to you.

I've summarised the points I found the most interesting from the report.


1. Teaching must be flexible.

Effective teaching suits the needs of the children and the National Curriculum expectations of year group. If you expect to have a hard and fast system when working in mixed age classes you could face more difficulties.


2. Use of elicitation tasks

The teachers taking part in the research project explained that it was key to start with what the children DO know. By starting with an elicitation task the teacher can observe as the children work through, and then decide on resources needed to scaffold and extend each year group.


3. Draw out thinking during an elicitation task with effective questioning

"I wonder if..." is a great way to engage children in an investigation or exploration. Maths is a subject that oozes opportunity to discover and fascinate. A quality task will open pupils minds to new ways of thinking and allows the practitioner to observe and tune into their thoughts.


4. Mix teaching year groups together and separately

A number of objectives can be taught together and extended or support through effective questioning, but there are cases where the two (or more!) year groups need to be taught specific year group objectives. In this case, the Y1/2 teacher on the project explains,

"When teaching a specific year group objective, I carry out a double input e.g. I input to year ones while year twos carry out a challenging, independent activity, then swap over.”

Her reflections following engagement of the project are as follows:

“Next step: to generate a bank of year one and year two independent activities which will challenge children, yet not be too noisy as to distract the other year group from their input.”

(Babcock LDP, 2016)


5. Remove barriers and avoid cognitive overload

It is important to develop number sense and fluent basic facts so that children are not overloaded when answering questions or solving problems. Having to work out calculations that the children should be able to recall could really slow down the pace of your lesson, cause inaccuracies and pressure on the learners, so practice practice practice. In your setting how do you ensure that children in your class know key facts for their year group? How often do you practice? How do you share the expectations with parents?


6. Intervene rapidly

Same day intervention is a feature of the Teaching for Mastery approach, but it can be difficult to timetable. So how can this be managed in a mixed age setting? The report outlines suggestions of how Maths sessions could run so that rapid intervention features.

The following was quoted from the Babcock report. This school now runs two Maths sessions per day. The majority of teaching is taught within the first session of 35-40 minutes. The children then have a break and the second session of around 30 minutes runs as follows:

  • Whole class continue with task started in the first session - teacher observes learning and supports/challenges individuals or makes formative assessments

  • Some of the class continue with the same task - groups identified from formative assessment in the first session are taught by the class teacher and/or teaching assistant

  • Some of class continue with the same task - groups identified from formative assessment in previous sessions are taught by the teacher/ teaching assistant to address misconceptions or gaps

  • Children, who do not require support/extension/more time linked to the initial task, practise key maths skills: multiplication tables, number bonds, playing games to develop fluency.

  • Teacher/teaching assistant pre-teach to ensure children will be able to access learning on the following day

(Babcock LDP, 2016)


7. Collaborative working

Younger children within a mixed age class often find it more difficult to work independently. Collaborative work could be a solution when independent tasks are difficult to orchestrate. Older children could buddy with younger children and help them to develop their verbal reasoning. Click here to download your set of Reasoning Rainbows that can be stuck on straws and used as sentence starters when reasoning.


You can find the research here: https://www.babcockldp.co.uk/improving-schools-settings/mathematics/teaching-for-mastery/primary-teaching-for-mastery/teaching-for-mastery-mixed-age-classes

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