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Maharey: Launch of Middle Years Strategic Plan

Launch of Middle Years Strategic Plan

A speech the the New Zealand Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools about middle years education in New Zealand.


Good morning. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to join you here today for the launch of your Middle Years Strategic Plan.

This launch is a good time to reflect on those important middle years for schooling and to look ahead to what we want to achieve through education here in New Zealand.

Government's vision is to transform New Zealand from a country producing and selling commodities to a country producing high value goods and services for sale around the world.

We want to ensure every New Zealander has a stake in the future. And we want to achieve this transformation in a New Zealand way - by using and building on our values of being fair, inclusive, creative, innovative, and proud; and by focusing on New Zealand issues.

To achieve this we've set three overarching priorities for the next 10 years.

The first is economic transformation - creating a knowledge-led, innovative economy driven by creative and entrepreneurial business, underpinned by a world-class infrastructure, and conducted in an environmentally sustainable way.

The second families - young and old brings is about safety, health, and security for all members of every family. It's about creating economic and work opportunities for working-age people, and providing good education for children and young people.

The third priority national identity is about whom we are as New Zealanders, what we do, where we live, and how we see ourselves and are seen by the world. It is also all about innovation, fairness and inclusiveness that all New Zealanders share.

Where do the important middle years fit?

The middle years of schooling are very important ones for young people transitioning from primary to secondary schooling.

We need to make sure our 10 to 14 year-olds get the most from their education during this time so they can make their special contribution to our society and economy.

Your association and this summit recognises these early adolescent years as ones of change, diversity and complexity for students.

Regardless of what school a student goes to, we need to take account of their specific needs as an adolescent to make sure their learning is not adversely affected by the enormous physical and emotional changes they are also coping with.

To do the right thing by our students in the middle years, teachers often need to work together in teams to support and learn from each other. The curriculum for these the middle years needs to link across subject areas.

Teachers still need to be well-qualified in particular subject areas, used to working across subjects, and also well-qualified in the needs of emerging adolescents. This is demanding work.

Effective teachers, those who take account of what interests a student most and involve their students in the decision making about what is taught, make a big difference to how well a student does.

As a guiding principle, I believe our focus today on the middle years of schooling ought to be on making our system of education better fit the student, rather than student fit the system

The middle years' story

One of your aims for this summit is to provide a philosophy for the middle years of schooling. I also see you are focussing less on the school structure and more on what happens inside classrooms, regardless of the cut-off points for year levels.

This has been an area for debate since the start of middle schools more than a century ago.

In 1877 the Education Act established a national, primary education system and later that year, a separate Education Reserves Act provided for fee-paying students in secondary education.
This was the basis for a two-tier system of education in New Zealand - primary and secondary education.

Despite this, New Zealand has a long history of middle schooling. In 1894, Nelson Central School opened as one of the world's earliest middle schools.

The school found teaching specialist subjects, including science and manual arts could be made in a separate middle school. Although central schools closed in 1911, they were the forerunners of our current middle schools.

The first junior highs opened in 1922. They were based on an American model with students getting a taste for secondary subjects at an earlier age.
Junior highs included an accelerated programme for academic students, practical skills for the non-academic and provided centralised, specialist facilities.

Intermediate schools appeared as a cheaper alternative to junior highs during the depression years. In those days, students left school much earlier than they do today and setting a two-year timeframe at these schools meant intermediates were not the end point of most students' education.

But from the start, some educationalists were concerned about the lack of a definite philosophy behind intermediate schools.

From 1932 to 1964 reviews reiterated the need for the time spent at the intermediate school to be reconsidered and for serious account to be taken of a three or four-year duration for the middle years.

These reviews did place intermediate schools in the middle school structure giving reasons for young adolescents to be educated in a separate school.

One of the most important was the Beeby Report released in 1938. This investigated 16 intermediate schools, 11 of which were attached to post-primary schools. The report concluded that the major tenet of the Intermediate School was: "To provide a socially integrative period of schooling, the chief function of the intermediate school [is] to provide between the two [primary and secondary] a period of expansive, realistic and socially integrative education that will give all future citizens a common basis of experience and knowledge".

The Currie Commission Report 1962, stated: "Intermediates offer many educational advantages over primary schools: better classification of pupils; a smoother passage of pupils from primary to secondary schooling: specialist tuition, particularly in subjects such as music, art, physical education and manual subjects."

It is clear that some of the issues that your association is grappling with at this summit have been there, and have been recurring, since the very early days of education in New Zealand. It is useful to remind ourselves that we are dealing with big issues that have proved intractable and difficult in the past.

The research - Competent Learners @14 Project

I want to now look to the more recent past.

The Competent Learners project is funded jointly by the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER). This longitudinal study focuses on some 500 students in the greater Wellington region.

The study found there was no significant evidence to show the transition to secondary school affects students' levels of performance. At age 14, a student's earlier performance, and how they engaged in school, carries more weight in their overall performance than the transition to secondary school itself.

Much of the previous debate about middle schooling has focused on transition and where the cut-off points ought to be for different phases of schooling. I think this study confirms that your association is right to focus less on the structure of the schooling system and more on what happens inside the classroom to better manage students in the middle years.

Two other findings from Competent Learners project are important for us.

Firstly, enjoyment of reading is a key indicator for engagement in learning and for competency at age 14. This is why we have placed such great emphasis on the Literacy Strategy.

The Literacy Professional Development Project uses tools such as the Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle) to provide evidence on student outcomes.

asTTle is proving to be a great help to teachers and families. It helps teachers identify students' strengths or gaps in their learning so they can base their teaching around individual students' needs.

Secondly, students who are showing signs of disengaging from school in the middle years are also those likely to experience family pressure and engage in risky behaviour with their peers. They are often the ones who are not putting their energies into sport or cultural activities and instead of reading these students are often heavy watchers of television.

Because we know a high level of community support and parental involvement in a child's education, and at your schools, does make a difference we are emphasising the vital role of parents in education through the Team-Up initiative.

In the years of early adolescence, our schools need to be working with parents to prevent this group of students becoming disillusioned and ill-equipped to deal with further education and the world of work.

In this year's Budget government has committed $9.5 million to help schools tackle the problem of disruptive behaviour.

This new initiative includes guidelines and examples of best practice, because you are all trying to do a good job, but don't always have concrete examples of what works.

There is a screening tool, so we can spot the early signs of disruptive behaviours and tackle them before they get out of hand. And there is additional funding for those schools that need help fast, to keep students learning.

Why We Should Focus on Effective Teaching in the Middle Years?
One of the important, longer-term issues for the middle years is how best to train teachers specifically to handle the needs of early adolescents.

Effective teaching has been identified as the key influence on all student achievement.

Effective teaching can have a significant impact, as much as 59 percent, on variances in learner outcomes in classrooms.

Effective teachers can make a difference where they had previously been unable to do so; quality teachers ¯ who are supported to have high expectations of their students, teachers who have up-to-date, in-depth knowledge of their subject and who have the skills to teach and assess for the best possible learning outcomes for every New Zealand student.

We know when teachers have high expectations of students, strong subject knowledge, and respect who students are and recognise their contribution, the quality of teaching is high.

Those teachers who take the trouble to understand a student's background - their family and their cultural heritage - also help their students to make the most of every opportunity.

Nowhere in the timing of a student's life is this more important than in early adolescence. It is a sure-fire method of protecting students from the perils of disengaging from education.

Quality teachers also need to know how to teach - to know their subjects, to understand there is no one right way to teach, and to know how to relate to students' experiences so these can be incorporated into successful learning in and outside the classroom.

We also know that the gain from quality teaching is most substantial for all underachieving students.

That is why we're placing such an emphasis - as you are at NZAIMS - on quality teaching.

The focus is strongly shifting from outside the classroom to what happens inside the classroom.

Looking ahead
I have asked the Ministry of Education to begin research on middle schools in New Zealand. Because there are so few schools that fit this bill, this is no easy task. The Ministry is currently developing proposals for Cabinet on a research project around the new middle school at Albany - Albany Junior High.

Many educationalists including some of you here today, believe strongly in a stand-alone, middle school for Year 7-10 students as a positive schooling option for them.

Many think junior high school students will be able to make a seamless transition to a related senior college (Years 11-13) and this will help them cope better with the senior secondary years, which now involve many more choices through our more flexible qualifications system.

As a result junior high schools may well take on a predominantly secondary orientation, as they prepare students for the transition to senior schooling and NCEA.

If this is the case, these schools may need to work very much like a secondary school in their third and fourth years, with specialised teaching and the resources to support them; rather than being an extension of an intermediate school.

A junior high school with a primary orientation right to the end of year 10 would I believe create a more difficult transition into year 11 for students.

What we need now is more research into the learning and social outcomes for students in new schools like Albany. The growth of new school networks and the expansion of others may well give us further opportunities to find out whether or not different school structures have an affect on student outcomes.

I hope NZAIMS members will get involved in the reference group the Ministry is setting up to inform the research on middle schooling. I expect this reference group to help develop a framework for research at Albany Junior High School. The group might also propose a range of options for me to consider on the wider implications of schooling for early adolescents.

The Middle Years Schooling Strategy

The NZAIMS Middle Years Schooling Strategy being launched today is a valuable contribution to the discussion we need to have on just what sort of education is appropriate for adolescent students.

All schools, whether it be a junior high, intermediate, composite, middle, or secondary, catering for students in the middle years have a legitimate stake in best meeting these students' needs.

Having a range of schools in New Zealand means we will be able to make future comparisons, although we do need to keep in mind that the number of middle schools and junior high schools is, as I mention before, very small.

New Zealand's schooling system has to meet the country's demographic trends.

Government will continue to put schools where they are most needed - in fast growing areas. New schools give us a great opportunity to consider fresh and innovative ways of meeting students' learning needs and the educational aspirations of their families and communities.

These options may include secondary-tertiary partnerships, Year 7 to 10 schools and Year 7 to 13 schools. This does not mean New Zealand's traditional schools will be superseded. No particular model of middle schooling is being favoured over another - rather we have an opportunity to better match schools with students and communities and get the right fit for local circumstances.

The Year 8 National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) results show no overall difference in learning results based on either school type or size. This suggests that school type and structure is not particularly relevant to variations in student achievement in New Zealand.

While our schooling structure may not be a major factor in student outcomes, sometimes new structures, such as junior highs, can act as a catalyst for change. We can challenge current ways of teaching and learning and stimulate our classroom teaching with fresh ideas and practices.


Thank you all for your commitment to raising the educational achievement of young adolescents.

The launch of your middle years' philosophy is a reflection of your interest and commitment to educating these young people.

I am positive about the changes you have been making at NZAIMS and particularly the changes you are making to teaching.

Changes focused on effective teaching and geared towards young adolescents; changes which put the student at the centre of learning rather than focusing on the phases of schooling and structural issues.

Effective teaching gives all our young people the opportunity for success as they move through the schooling system on to further study and employment. Looking after them during those early adolescent years will help them all to fulfil to their full potential.

I wish you well for the rest of your deliberations at this summit - I hope it is an enjoyable and rewarding time for all of you.


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