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The term “combined school” is used in several different senses and the meaning is not always obvious from the context. Confusingly, some schools have “combined” in their name, but don't actually have any traits associated with combined schools. The uses of this term have also evolved over time, which can lead to some confusion in terminology.
The original sense of the word comes from England, where it was initially used to refer to a school which took students from ages four to 12. Such schools literally combined schools which normally separated students out by age group. The practice of combining to serve a large age range of students was adopted and used in other regions of the world, along with the term “combined school.”
There are a number of reasons to operate this type of school. One common reason is concerns about funding, or a shrinking student body. A school district may believe that the students in one area could be better served in this type of school than in separate facilities. Running this type of school is less expensive than handling a preschool, elementary school, and middle school as individual educational institutions, and when a student body is small, students may enjoy the connections with other students available in a combined school.
Combined schools can include a variety of age ranges. Some may handle students all the way through high school, while others may take children starting in the lower grades and move through middle school, sending very young children and high school students to different schools. The approach this type of school takes is dependent on the demographics of the community and the option the school district thinks is best.
Districts may also be periodically combine themselves, or schools within their districts. This is often usually done for financial reasons. Two neighboring districts might believe that students would be better served by uniting the resources of both districts, for example, or a district might opt to close a school and combine its students with another because enrollment is falling, performance is slipping, or funds are tight.
Social tensions can sometimes be observed at a combined school. Mixing a broad range of age ranges can expose younger children to bullying from older ones, which can be problematic for some students. Combining districts can sometimes cause class and racial clashes as people who formerly attended different schools are forced to interact with each other.