Changing Classes – are we damaging our students?


It’s that time of year in primary schools again – the time for mixing up the classes and making new ones for next year. I have some thoughts about this.

My first thought is that mixing the classes up every year should not be the default. This is particularly true in international schools where students have very little continuity in their lives anyway. Friends are constantly coming and going, being made and lost. These children, generally, have little bond with their extended families – cousins and so on. Their little lives are in a constant state of flux. In a way, our schools owe it to them to provide a little bit of continuity. Instead, we pull the rug from under their feet and force them to go through the painstaking process of making friends all over again. Even as we speak, my daughter is being separated from her closest friends – for the third year in a row. Just doesn’t seem right, really, does it?

My second thought is an indicator of a bigger problem –¬†friendship within and across classes. Whether we say it is a major factor in the creation of classes or not, to our students the issue of which class their friends are in is HUGE. Each year, we see close friendships break down when students are placed in separate classes. After a while, new friendships are formed with students in the same class. The fact of the matter is – being in the same class seems to be the key factor in the sustainability of friendships in schools. This is an indicator of some very serious problems:

  • Classes become silos in which students have few opportunities to interact with and learn with students from other classes.
  • Play opportunities may be too rare, infrequent and brief to allow for those times to create the conditions for rich friendships beyond just the ones that exist in the classroom.
  • Our students’ lives outside of school clearly become equally scheduled and compartmentalized as “play-dates” (God, I hate that term) are based more and more on students who are in the same class and who parents deem to be acceptable friends.

If schools are going to grow beyond their current state Рthe need for which so many of us are in agreement about Рwe need to take a long, hard look at this class-creating habit we have developed. It may be way more damaging and counter-productive than we think.

We also need to look at what our timetables say about how much we value play and the social connections and relationships that could be evolving in so many rich ways if we allow more time.

Perhaps we also need to work with parents in order to attempt to break down this “play-date” culture which converts what should be healthy, spontaneous play with whoever happens to be around to adult-manipulated, scheduled “dates” with carefully selected children.

What does your school do?

Is there an approach that you feel is right?




  1. orenjibuta

    My experience with my daughter is that the friends that she has outside of school tend to be more volatile inside the classroom. I have suggested (however her teacher has always agreed) that she be split up from the friends that I know she will see outside of school anyway, which are often those students whom my nanny has a connection with their nanny or parents. I want the split in the hope that she develops different and less volatile relationships in the classroom and knowing that she will still see those other friends outside of school anyway.
    Like everything it it something that needs to be considered case by case. I agree about the stability in friendships for the expat population in the school, as their emotional needs are different than those who are permanently based here and have easy access to not only their immediate family but also their extended family, so whose support network would presumably be much larger. In this situation, do you not have grounds to make a case that this dissolution of friendships doesn’t happen? Surely you would have the support of much research about TCKs and your own first-hand experience to use in support of this case.

    • sherrattsam

      I guess I’m “caught between a rock and a hard place” – I believe that the friendships should be given a chance to solidify so our children have even the remotest chance of creating some lifelong bonds, but am also worried by how important being in the same class still seems to be. I would like to see a shift in pedagogy and teacher attitude which means students get more chances to learn with and interact with students in other classes.

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  3. Lindy Buckley

    I think there are plusses and minuses. When I started teaching, classes stayed together for all primary school. It meant that there were almost always some kids who did not do well together and they had 7 years of it. The best we can do is be thoughtful when sorting classes. Make sure that each student has at least one good friend in the new class and also offer as many opportunities work/play with other classes. This is easier when there are 2 or 3 in a grade for sure….

  4. Veena

    Interesting conversation going on here! In my current school, we have two forms per grade and we encourage collaborative lessons. This means that for spelling, reading, UOI, and other projects, students from both classes have plenty of opportunities to bond with one another. My school always splits classes to keep the balance (read sanity) within the classroom but my opinion is divided on this. I agree that students should be given the opportunities to develop strong friendship bonds which can be achieved by keeping them together for years, however, I have experienced friendships taking a toll on one’s own learning. Over-dependence, decreased self-confidence, dictatorial behavior from the bossy on the timid and so on. I am enjoying the collaboration between the two classes and it just seems that its a win-win for students, teachers, and parents.


    I do not think mixing up classes is good. I am 100% on your side with let them build strong friendships. I am from Europe where classes stay together from 1st grade until 8th grade and from 9-12. I did have very strong friendships because of that. Every year it is very stressful to start the new school year for kids and when I was a child the only thing made it easy, was the fact that I knew my classmates well and they were part of my life, even the rowdy ones. I do not think they will become over dependent if they have their friends with them for years, but it will lift off some stress and by the time it is time to go on their own ways, they are emotionally mature enough to deal with that, but not at a young age. My daughter in 2nd grade was put in a class without any of her friends. She was not a very secure person and was a nervous child before and this change was very hard on her. The whole year went by with a lot of crying , not wanting to go to school, not being able to sleep well and with loneliness. After that year and on I asked the teachers to keep her with one , or two of her old friends at least and it made a huge difference! I think some kids are just not mature enough emotionally to have constant changes like that in their life and schools should lift at least the burden of loosing a friend every year off.

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