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Parents need to hear all the advantages

Easing parents' worries was the first priority for Gill Heslop (left), head of Easington Lane Primary in Sunderland, when she introduced mixed-aged classes 10 years ago.

"We had a meeting and newsletters," she said. "Parents were invited to the school so we could show them what their children were doing. The main worry was that their children would be doing the same work again. They thought their child would be held back."

The school usually admits 40 pupils. This provides enough money to employ eight teachers to cover Years 1-6. The deputy head provides teachers' planning, preparation and assessment cover, and a part-time teacher is also employed.

Mixed-age groups were introduced because of falling numbers, but they were not the only option. The school could have had larger classes, possibly using the money saved to bring in specialist teachers for particular subjects.

"It's my job to do the best for the children with the money I have," says Mrs Heslop. "We have a high proportion of pupils with special needs - 32 per cent are on the SEN register. I know this school and I know large classes would be difficult."

The school's average class size is now 24, and teachers have a say in drawing up the class lists. Pupils are grouped mainly on friendships, with the aim of creating classes that are as balanced as possible in terms of gender, special needs and abilities.

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