What are Composite Classes?

There is much debate about the topic of student allocation in classrooms. Confusing this debate, is the fact that there are a wide range of methodologies that schools employ to compose (allocate students within) their class groups. Composite classes is one of those methods. In high school, rather than refer to the term 'composite classes' we refer to it as vertically integrated' work programs which broadly falls within the flexible learning space of student-allocation methodologies for Grades 11 and 12. In short, what we're trying to explain is that a composite class is made up of students of different ages (usually no more than TWO age groups)...in other words...it's a methodology that offers a bit more flexibly than simply placing every student who is the same age, into the same class.

Of course, there are perfectly good reasons for creating classes with children all the same age group. We could call this traditional methodology: DAG (discrete age-group) classes. Some of the benefits of the traditional DAG approach include:

  • that similarly-aged students will generally socialise well together
  • that teachers are able to guage where a student fits developmentally within their age cohort, by simply comparing each against the other students in their discrete-age-group class
  • many teachers prefer their classes to be of mixed ability (having both high performing and low performing students) within the same class, so that the low-performing students are able to witness what is expected at their grade level and hopefully be able to learn from the higher-performing students within their class group. Simply allocating students (say alphabetically) into a class based on their chronological age, would generally ensure 'mixed ability' groups. (NOTE: Though technically, mixed ability is usually cited as an argument to streaming or allocating students into groups based on their ability or output, a common complaint about 'streamed groups' is that it's fine for the high performing groups, but can be pretty depressing and even demoralising for the 'self-identified' low ability groups and to the teachers who are required to cater to the lower-performing groups.)

An alternative approach to the 'mixed ability discrete age-group' (MADAG) allocation of students is the 'streamed discrete age-group' method, which is usually only available to large schools who have a large enough number of students to be able to allocate the highest performing students into their own class, the next highest into another class, etc. This is generally referred to by the simple term: Streamed Classes. Streaming certainly has its supporters who cite...

  • unless classes are streamed, EVERYONE (except potentially average students) are disadvantaged because the progress of EVERY class is detrimentally affected, i.e. progress is too slow for the students who need to be enriched and too fast for the students who need additional support and explanation
  • unless classes are streamed, teachers are unable to offer even the pretence of individualised or personalised education for such a wide range of abilities
  • evidence that lower performing and even average-performing students are demoralised on a daily basis by what they see from their higher-performing peers.
  • evidence that higher performing students become disillusioned and bored by slow progress and socially at risk by the taunts of their lower-performing peers

Another alternative is the composite-class streamed method that Kooralbyn advocates.

Composite-Streamed Classes are what small schools like Kooralbyn prefer as it allows us to maximise the benefits and minimise the negatives associated with student allocation. Though it works slightly differently in Primary School to upper High School, the following explanation applies to the PRIMARY SCHOOL use of composite-streaming.

Compsite-Streaming in Primary School: In any grade where we have a broad range of student abilities yet not enough students to stream an entire DAG (Disecrete Age-Group) class, the Composite-Class-Streamed methodology allows us to apply the following process...

  1. Students are allocated to their class, depending on their most recent results (in other words, students are NOT permanently allocated to a group, but have flexibility up and down from one semester to the next)
  2. Students can be allocated to different streamed groups for different subjects...in other words, a student might be in a high-performing class for one subject and a lower-performing group for a different subject...therefore minimising the potential of being 'stigmatised' as a low-performer across the board.
  3. In a small primary school like ours, how this composite-streaming presents itself, is that we tend to have overlapping composite classes all the way up from Prep to Grade 6. So, for example, rather than having a single discrete-age-group class for Prep, another for Grade 1, another for Grade 2. another for Grade 3, etc., we would have overlapping composite classes e.g. a combined Prep-1 class, a combined Grade 1-2 class, a combined Grade 2-3 class, a combined Grade 3-4 class, etc. (See diagram below).
  4. Being streamed, each of these composite classes will consist of our higher-performing junior grade students combined with our lower-performing senior grade students. The teacher will be actually teaching TWO DIFFERENT GRADE'S CURRICULUMS (i.e. both the junior grade, e.g. Grade 11, and the senior grade, e.g. Grade 12) in the one classroom. This allows the lower-performing senior grade students to be exposed to some of the foundational elements that they missed last year while also allowing the high-performing junior grade students to be exposed to and enriched by the next grade's curriculum.
  5. Should one of the lower-performing senior grade students within our composite-streamed classes start performing better than they had previously because (perhaps because they've been able to fill some missing knowledge gaps by being exposed to the lower grade's work), they can be transferred next semester to the next class up...and in so doing, they will become one of the higher-performing junior grade students within that class. Conversely, should one of the higher performing students within a junior grade start under-performing, they can be transferred down to be the next lower class and be exposed to some of the foundation skills and knowledge from the previous grade.

The diagram below shows an example of how a composite-stream class would be allocated across the range of primary school students in two grades...

What are the benefits?

Whether it be for Primary School or Senior High school, the Composite-Streaming method provides our students with many benefits...

  • Primary School: Students are able to be delivered a more personalised curriculum. If they're performing well in their age-group cohort, they'll be able to be natually enriched as they're exposed to the next year curriculum in their classroom. If they're struggling with their age-group standards, they'll be given the opporunity to fill in gaps and to revisit some of the content and processes from the previous year... all without drawing any attention to their needs or the solutions being offered.
  • Secondary School: Since the school has the flexibility to 'vertically integrate' its senior curriculum, schools like ours are constantly evaluating the best options for our students within each subject area. Selectively offering composite classes in Grades 11 and 12 is more about offering our students a broader range of subjects to choose from but it can also produce similar benefits to those achieved by our Primary School. For example...
    1. Kooralbyn has been achieving amazing results in several vertically integrated (composite) Grade  11 and 12 classes for subjects that we would otherwise not be able to offer. This means that our students are able to access 16 or more senior subjects delivered as normal class subjects within the school.
    2. Some of the senior sciences (like Physics and Chemistry), technology subjects, languages and even some of the senior arts subjects would not be viable without the composite option and any perceived or potential detrimental affect of being offered as a composite subject are more than overcome by the fact that our composite classes in Grades 11 and 12 are often delivered to incredibly small classes of six or less students.
    3. The net result of that is that not only are our senior students able to select from more subjects, once they choose a subject, they get virtually personalised one-on-one access to their teacher which augers well for their results and outcomes.
    4. All of which explains, why Kooralbyn's OP results have been among the best in the state for the last ten years (average percentage of OP-eligible Grade 12 students from 2007 to 2017 who achieved an OP 1-15 for example, was 88.6% which is significantly better than the state average of around 61% over that same period.)