Class structures in schools

School courtyardWhat are streamed or mixed-ability groups?

It is very rare to find schools that ‘stream’ all of their students — that is, put all the ‘high ability’ students in one class for all subjects, all the ‘lower ability’ in another, and the ‘middling’ students in between (with the exception of Year 5 and 6 Opportunity Classes in New South Wales — see Selective and comprehensive schools). With full-scale streaming on the way out, mixed-ability classes are the norm in most schools in Australia. There are also several other ways to organise students in special groups for at least some subjects. Other class groups schools might offer are detailed below.

Single-sex classes

While most schools favour coeducation in as many classes as possible, some experiment with single-sex classes in other subjects in order to improve learning. For some time, girls-only classes have been arranged to develop girls’ participation in certain subjects, such as science and technology. More recently, some schools have been trying to improve boys’ performance by separating them for certain subjects in which girls typically outclass them.


What is sometimes referred to as ‘setting’ is quite common and simply means that students may be together in a home group for some subjects but then go to different classes for others.

Vertical Modular Grouping

Vertical Modular Grouping usually mixes ‘setting’ in some core subjects with a ‘vertical streaming’ model for electives in other areas. ‘Vertical’ means that the year levels are mixed, probably through Years 8–10. ‘Modular’ means that the subjects are divided into semester-length units or modules. Modular groupings in English and maths are likely to be based on students’ abilities, while other groupings are based more upon interests.

Support and extension classes

Even when students are in mixed-ability classes for all subjects, the school might offer special classes to help students who are struggling to catch up, or extension classes for students who show an aptitude in one or more areas. In these cases students do most of their work in mixed-ability classes and some in special classes.

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