Classes Structuring in Primary Schools

Structure of Classes

Primary schools have pupils at seven year stages, P1 to P7.  A year stage can therefore be defined as a group of pupils entering primary education at a common date.

• Composite classes occur where children from two or more year stages are grouped together.

• Schools receive a basic complement of teaching staff in accordance with the total number of pupils on the roll.  No account is taken of the way in which pupils may happen to be distributed across age bands.

• As manager of the school it is the head teacher’s responsibility to structure the classes making the most effective use of staffing resources.  This is a fundamental professional responsibility and should ensure that effective use is made of DSM resources, including staffing formula.  The deployment of staff is also a key indication of the ‘Best Value’ use of available resources.

• Government regulations and the national conditions of service for teachers, subject to a few exceptions, set a normal maximum number of 25 pupils in P1, 30 pupils in P2-3 and 33 pupils in P4-P7 for single year stage classes in primary school.  The maximum number of pupils for classes containing more than one year stage (composite class) is 25.   

• It is, therefore, normally possible to form single year stage classes when the number of pupils at each year stage is slightly below the class maximum of 33 or a multiple of 33.  Where numbers are very small or where they are slightly larger than 33, it is usually necessary to form composite classes, perhaps at several stages.

• A number of professional considerations should be borne in mind when considering the classification of classes, including overall capacity of the school, effective delivery of the curriculum and meeting learners’ needs.  In particular, consideration should be given to ensuring that, as far as possible, due account is taken of available personnel resources for the effective management of the school.  It is important for learning and teaching in the school as a whole that class organisation allows for useful deployment of promoted and specialist staff together with effective use of resources and space as appropriate.  This will vary from school to school.

Selection of Pupils

• In the formation of new classes full account must be taken of existing successful groupings of pupils.  Schools should use language and/or mathematics groupings as the baseline for decisions as to which class children are allocated.  Within this broad guideline a language and/or mathematics working group is defined as:
“A number of pupils of broadly the same attainment who show the capacity of working well as a learning group.”

• The use of language and/or mathematics working groups as the criterion carries particular advantages in that working groups ensure continuity and progression appropriate to the ability and aptitude of the children.

• By implication, the use of language and/or mathematics working groups as the guiding principle will mean that account can be taken of a balance of ability groups across classes.

• In all classes the membership of teaching groups may change during the course of a school session as a class teacher, using professional judgement, responds to pupil needs and progress.

Responsibility for Decisions on Class Organisation

• Responsibility for decisions regarding class organisation rests with the head teacher who must be able to produce documented educational and organisational evidence to support final structures.  This may be required to aid discussions with parents who have queries about class structures.

• Head teachers must consult with promoted staff and teachers in arriving at the final decisions on class formation.

• Class teachers must abide by decisions relating to organisational arrangements and the timing and content of any information released to parents.

Transition to Secondary School

• There is an expectation that pupils will spend 7 years at primary school.   There may be a small number of exceptional cases where class structures could result in a pupil spending more or less time at primary school.   Examples include a child repeating a year (e.g. P1) or a very able pupil who has been in the younger year group of a composite class but has worked consistently at the level of the older group (e.g. a P6 pupil in a P6/7 composite class).  The implications of such arrangements must be discussed with appropriate senior officers in Education and Social Care who will consider the implications and appropriateness based on the child’s age, ability and aptitude. The future implications for the child’s social and emotional well-being should also be considered in full.  Any decision on early or deferred entry to secondary school will be taken following the agreement of the Corporate Director (Education and Social Care) or his nominee.

Good Practice

• The delivery of the curriculum is similar in single year classes and in composite classes.  It is possible to have as wide a spread of ability and attainment levels in a single year class as in a composite class.

• National Guidance and school programmes of work support planning to meet children’s needs and progress their development in all areas of the curriculum.

• Throughout the school, staff are encouraged to liaise with one another, as appropriate, in order to achieve continuity and progression for all pupils.

• In classes of a single year stage and in composite classes pupils will work in social groups, mixed ability groups and ability groups according to the tasks in which they are involved and the teaching methodologies employed.

• Effective management of teaching and support staff, resources and teaching space are critical in the final decisions on class organisation.

• In particular head teachers should ensure that promoted staff are deployed to the benefit of the whole school and that teachers with particular remits are used effectively for the benefit of as many pupils as possible.


• Openness with parents is vital to ensure their understanding and support.

• Staff, parents and pupils must be informed about class formation and, where appropriate, the criteria used for allocating pupils to classes at the earliest opportunity.

• Where appropriate, when a following session’s class structure is communicated to parents, it must be accompanied by a statement which will explain that further reorganisation may become necessary.


Head teachers must:

• Incorporate the criteria for structuring classes in the school handbook.

• Make available this policy, for parents, on the formation of classes.

• Inform parents of likely re-organisation of classes at the earliest possible opportunity to allow for appropriate discussion to take place.

• Inform the Parent Council of decisions made regarding class structure and formation.

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