Twins in school: To separate or not to separate?

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News family and education reporter

  • Published
Rachael's twins
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Twins: Is separation in school a good idea?

Should twins be taught separately or kept together?

Recent research says the decision on whether to separate twins should not be dictated by school policy but should be left to the families themselves.

Here are the views of three mothers.

Melissa, mum to seven-year-old twins, wanted her children to be kept together

"I went for our school because it was one-form entry and the twins could be kept together and there wouldn't be an issue," says Melissa.

"I just thought starting school is a big enough change for them and not the time to separate children who've always been together.

"I felt it would be too much of a wrench to go through that change because they'd always spent a lot of time together."

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Melissa chose a school that would mean her twins could be together

When looking at potential primary schools, Melissa said she found the prevailing policy was to put twins in different classes.

"Where it's not a one-form entry, in my experience, schools tend to separate twins.

"When I looked at schools, most of them said their policy is to place twins in different classes, but then I asked why and no-one seemed to know where that policy came from."

She puts this down to modern expectations around independence.

"I think there's a fear that they'll grow up dependent on each other.

"In this country we push children to be independent at a very young age - they start school early, mothers are encouraged to go back to work and put them in childcare.

"So the expectation is, 'You've got to go to school and stand on your own two feet.'

"But I think parents should be asked - parents should be able to say what they want for their children."

Melissa says although her twins are in the same class, they have their own friendship groups at school and go to different clubs.

"They are very close, but they are not dependent on each other and they are very, very different.

"They're quite open to what the future holds school-wise, but they'd prefer to go to the same secondary school."

Mary, mum to 15-year-old twins, decided to separate her girls

Mary says her girls were always very close. They were very shy out of the home and spoke only to selected people.

"When they went to nursery they rarely spoke to the teacher and shared the same friend. So to cut a long story short, that is why we placed them in the same class at school to start with.

"School is a major event in a child's life so to separate them would have been extremely traumatic for them."

However, Mary soon realised being together was not the best thing for her daughters.

"By halfway through their first year at school it became obvious that the following year they would need to be separated - they were coming out of their shells and developing their own different personalities.

"Yianna, the second-born twin, started to tell us that at school Angelique, the first-born, was always telling her what to do in class and wanting her to sit with her all the time and choose the same activities as her and she didn't want to, but said she had to because she said it made Angelique sad."

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Mary took the decision to separate her twins at school

Mary says there were many advantages when they put the girls into separate classes.

"They became more independent of each other and didn't rely on each other in the class. They made new friends in the classroom but still played together at break and lunchtime.

"They began to speak more in the classroom not looking for confirmation from each other. Yianna especially became more confident and was free to make choices whether good or bad and pleasing herself.

"The other wonderful thing that happened was the conversation at the dinner table every evening as they compared their classes and experiences - previously it was generally about complaints they had about each other."

Mary is also a teacher and believes a rigid school policy either way on twin separation is not appropriate.

"As a teacher I truly believe that you cannot make a decision about separating twins without consulting and discussing with the parents - they know their children best.

"As teachers we can make recommendations and discuss with parents and give them the pros and cons.

"The personalities of the twins play a big role, as does their gender - from experience boy/girls twins generally don't seem to interact as much in the classroom or in the playground as same-sex twins do."

Mary stresses that, to begin with, the girls were not happy about the decision to split them up.

"Originally, when we told them that they would be in separate classes, I won't lie, they were distraught.

"I think the neighbours must have thought we were torturing them as they cried and howled for hours."

Rachael, mum to five-year-old twins, believes they will "find their own way regardless"

Like Melissa's twins, Rachael's children attend a small school, so putting her son and daughter in different classes was not an option.

"I had no questions whatsoever about them going into the same class. It never occurred to me to separate them because they're so independent - their likes and dislikes are very different and they are very different."

But while she is happy for them to be in the same class, Rachael is equally happy for her children to be separated.

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Rachael believes it should be up to families to decide

"I've never felt any obligation to keep them together because they're so close at home and their bond is so close, the family bond is there but they are individuals and I want to see their strengths shine as individuals.

"I personally believe that the children are individuals and they'll find their own way regardless of whether they're split or put together.

"I'd send them to separate schools if necessary, if I thought it was best - it wouldn't cross my mind not to do what's best for each individual child.

"It's each family's decision.

"I disagree it [separation] should be the school policy, but I definitely think it should come down to what's best for the child - and that doesn't necessarily mean the children are going to like it!"