Together or apart?
With regard to separation in school, Helen Koch (1966, p134) states:
"There have been endless assertions about the hazards of not keeping twin-pair members apart at school, and the time for disjoining is usually affirmed to be when the children enter school. It is a common belief that twins on entrance to school have, because of their youth, fabulous powers of adjustment and that dissociation from the sib for a few hours per day will be no more serious than separation of the child from the home situation during school hours. It is maintained that, while in any case, the twin pair will tend to be rivalous, be concerned about favoritism and being cheated, be given to indulging in self-comparisons and so forth, all this being intensified by the twins being enrolled in the same class and subjected to the constant contrasting that goes on at the hands of their teachers, classmates and school associates."
"The best policy is a flexible policy"
The start of school is frequently the time that parents focus upon whether multiple birth children should be together in the same class or separated into parallel classes.
For many parents, there is no choice as many schools allocate children into classes without consulting with parents or without taking into account the potential needs of multiple birth children.
Our work indicates that both Australian and British parents and teachers frequently have strong opinions about separation. Many schools have policies (written and unwritten) declaring that multiples should be separated in order to help them to develop as individuals or should be kept together as multiples are a natural unit. Some schools have rigid organisational policies that fail to take into account the needs of multiples e.g. classes are arranged in alphabetical order or birthdate so multiples have to be kept together. There is no right or wrong answer with regard to separation in school. The needs of each child must be considered both as an individual and as a multiple. No decision should be irreversible and flexibility is the key word both for parents and teachers.
Separation of multiples is the most common single cause of conflict between teachers and parents. This section outlines some of the arguments for and against separation and provides a checklist (40k pdf) to help parents and teachers make a decision about what is best for their multiples for that year. It is important to emphasise that no one can ever class separation as "good" or "bad" for twins in general. The issue is whether it is more appropriate or less appropriate for this set of multiples at this time in their development. There may be excellent reasons given as to why separation is the best thing for these children, but there may be just as compelling reasons why it may be the worst thing for them.
Advantages of separation in school
- The children are able to operate as individuals within the class situation.
- The teacher is more likely to compare the multiple child against the peer group instead of his or her co-multiple(s)
- The multiple birth child is able to operate without his or her co-multiple telling, particularly if he or she isin trouble
- The multiple birth child has an opportunity to make friends and socialise as an individual (although this may not be the case at playtimes and in after-school activities)
Disadvantages of separation in school
- Multiple birth children may need the support of each other particularly if they have not experienced separation prior to school
- Even if multiple birth children are comfortable when separated, they may need to be able to check up on what the other is doing
- If one child is dominant the dominant child may lose confidence as he or she no longer has his or her co-multiple(s) to organise
- The children may be compared more at home particularly if one appears to be making more progress e.g. gets a reading book first
- The teachers are less likely to understand how the children operate as multiples e.g. being upset if one is ill or in trouble
Does it matter?
Until recently, there has been no good evidence about the benefits or otherwise of separating multiples. Studies done once the multiples are in the school system cannot distinguish whether any problems were pre-existing and the reason for any separation or were caused by the separation. Two recent studies, one in the UK and the other in The Netherlands have shown some negative effects of separation or at least no benefits. The effects were not enormous, but clearly show separation is not a universal solution to issues that may arise with multiples. These studies are discussed in more detail in our article in Early Human Development.