Research School Network: Do mixed-aged classes in small schools create ideal conditions for metacognitive regulation? Emily Smeaton, draws on her experience teaching mixed aged classes to investigate metacognitive skills


Do mixed-aged classes in small schools create ideal conditions for metacognitive regulation?

Emily Smeaton, draws on her experience teaching mixed aged classes to investigate metacognitive skills

Small Schools and Mixed-Aged Classes

Small schools are defined by the DfE as fewer than 100 pupils (DfE, 2019) with mixed aged classes being part and parcel of their uniqueness. Reception and Key Stage 1 are often learning together and some Key Stage 2 classes include all 4 year groups.

The challenges of mixed-aged classes are widely known across the teaching profession such as supporting and challenging all pupils, and mixed year group planning (Berry, 2004). However, the benefits of mixed-aged classes are often overlooked and less considered. One such benefit is that they create the perfect learning conditions for developing and supporting metacognitive regulation.

What is Metacognitive Regulation? 

Recommendation 1 of the EEF’s Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report states metacognitive regulation is about planning how to undertake a task, working on it while monitoring the strategy to check progress, then evaluating the overall success.’ This ongoing metacognitive regulation cycle can be seen in diagram.

Metacogntion diagram 1
The EEF's Metacognition Regulation Cycle

Within this cycle, teachers and TAs take on the role of explicitly teaching pupils how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning. This explicit teaching, combined with interactive questioning, is essential for pupils to develop metacognitive regulation. Teachers and TAs should carefully consider these when setting learning tasks and supporting pupils to complete them.

Our Small School’s Experience of Implementing the Metacognitive Regulation Cycle

During our small school’s recent professional development journey of implementing the metacognitive regulation cycle, we used some useful EEF resources to support teachers and TAs explicit modelling and question prompts to support pupils’ independence in applying the metacognitive regulation cycle.

As we build the cycle of planning, monitoring and evaluating into our day-to-day teaching habits, the increased opportunities our pupils get in mixed-aged classes to observe, practice and fine-tune metacognitive regulation are highlighted. We always knew that our pupils benefited from sharing knowledge with one another, but this highlighted how they can support one other to become independent learners.

Our staff began to relate what they were seeing to recommendation 3 of the EEF’s Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning guidance report states A tailor will teach an apprentice by allowing them to work alongside them watching their movements and techniques closely, modelling their craft. Teachers in all subjects do the same – reveal their expert subject knowledge and skill to their novice learners.’

Not only do our pupils get to observe teachers and TAs modelling their craft’, but they also get to watch their older class peers modelling their craft’. Benefits were noted equally for our older pupils as teachers and TAs planned opportunities for them to develop their own metacognitive talk, further strengthening their ability to reason, discuss, argue and explain their thinking to younger year groups.

In our Reception and Year 1 class, opportunities are deliberately planned for both Reception and Year 1 to play alongside one another. Here, Year 1 model their planning, monitoring and evaluating skills in play whilst Reception pupils watch their actions closely and copy. Year 1 pupils ask reception pupils What’s your plan today?’ or Do you have everything you need?’. They copy the planning, monitoring and evaluation question prompts the teachers and TAs use with them. Year 1 can be clearly seen as the experts modelling their craft’ to their younger peers, encouraging them to become independent learners.

In our Year 5 and 6 class, the teacher carefully plans paired writing sessions to encourage Year 6 pupils to model the metacognitive regulation cycle to their younger peers. The Year 6’s upskill’ their peers by modelling their metacognitive regulation skills alongside their writing cognitive strategies and skills, whilst developing their own metacognitive talk. They encourage one other to independently plan, monitor and evaluate their writing.

It is widely acknowledged that whilst working with peers, pupils take on greater responsibility for their learning. Griffin (2021) noted that when working in groups, children also take responsibility for the learning of their peers.

Whilst peer group learning opportunities can and should be planned for in one year group classrooms, studies have found a quantitative increase of regulation with age (Zachariou and Whitebread, 2019). Taking advantage of this as pupils get older, certainly creates the perfect conditions in mixed-aged classes for supporting and developing metacognitive regulation.


Berry C. (2004) Mixed Age Classes in Urban Primary Schools: Perceptions of Headteachers. (accessed 7th March 2024)

Department for Education (2019a) Running small rural primary schools efficiently Research brief March 2019 DFE-RR910 This document is available for download at

Griffin, M. (2021) Metacognition Teaching Children to Think (Independently published, Adelaide, Australia.

Zachariou, A. and Whitebread, D. (2019) Developmental differences in young children’s self-regulation. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 62, pp.282 – 293.

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