Middle school was once something we watched with detached fascination on the screens of our televisions, reserved for the American tweens of Glee and Dawson’s Creek.
But does it really matter if young people attend middle school in Year 6 or 7 or go to high school in Year 8?
According to Chris Prance, Principal at St Peter’s Woodlands Grammar School, it matters a great deal, and moving children into a teen environment too early can impact their education by overlooking the key emotional and educational needs of this age group.
“Many middle schools offer a secondary style education from Year 6 or 7, which means students are getting a range of specialist subjects from different teachers,” he says.
“What can’t be overlooked is the need for a significant adult as class leader for a majority of the school day. This is a key time for adolescents, where their pastoral care is fundamental to their learning and success.
“Forming key relationships with one or two adults other than parents is still very important at 11 and 12 years of age.”
CARE AND CURRICULUM IN EQUAL MEASURE
At the heart of the issue is schools offering both the right care and curriculum for students in Year 6 and 7.
Primary schools that address the specific emotional and learning needs of students who aren’t young children, but equally aren’t yet teenagers, are the best environments for children at this age.
An innovative, varied and flexible curriculum that drives a desire to learn in a range of ways is imperative, as is the right support to develop confidence and self-belief.
Chris says that three key elements are needed at this important stage of life:
1. Access to one core teacher
“While schools offering a range of curriculum will provide children with access to specialist language, science and design teachers, having a core class teacher remains essential,” he says.
“In all of our experience, this is the best approach for developing great young people who are inquisitive, resilient, and respectful, considering student wellbeing not just academic needs.”
2. An innovative curriculum
“In terms of curriculum, it’s about offering variety,” he said.
“To ensure your child is exposed to innovative thinking, look at schools that provide a range of learning opportunities.
“In a given week, our Year 6 and 7 students might be coding a robot, learning equations, discussing literature, producing a video assignment, or learning Japanese – diversity is key.”
3. An inspiring and diverse physical environment
“This may mean space for desk work, and break out areas for small teams to work collaboratively,” he said.
“Integrated technology is also important to help students solve problems and share their work.”
AN IMPORTANT RITE OF PASSAGE
One of the specific issues about the middle school model is that students miss the important rite of passage of completing primary school and the associated leadership skills developed in this final year.
“Any parent or educator understands the huge difference a year makes in the development of a child. This is just as true for students moving into Year 7, and it’s great to see these young people maturing and becoming ready for the next stage of life,” Chris said.
“Children of 12 or 13 years of age are truly able to model leadership attributes.
“There is also a great confidence that comes from celebrating a milestone, and completing primary school is significant in the transition to high school and teen years. When we celebrate milestones we lead a happier life, and happier children are better equipped for life and learning.”
PREPARING THEM FOR TRANSITION
Ultimately, the upper primary years are essential for preparing your child for their transition into high school.
If you are making decisions about your child’s upper-primary and high-school education, here are Chris’ top five things to consider:
- Choose a primary school that is equally focused on pastoral care and curriculum in the upper primary years. Yes, you want your child to have all the right skills when they enter high school, but they also need to have independence, the ability to make new friends, to connect with people and resilience in dealing with new situations.
- Don’t be taken by grand facilities. Science and technology labs and swimming pools can be impressive; these don’t replace quality teachers who care about the whole development of your child.
- Be careful about your choices; listen to your child and what they want, at the same time have the confidence to make the right decision.
- Make a short list of possible high schools based on a range of practical and emotional considerations. Do you want co-ed or single sex, what fees will be acceptable, could your child travel, is an academic or varied offer best, what is your position about religious education? Visit all of the schools to see for yourself and get a sense of whether it would be a good fit for your child.
- Remember it’s a joint effort – parents, children, teachers and schools all work together to ensure the best transition to high school.
If you’d like to find out more about the Year 6/7 Centre at SPW please contact Jo Gray, Enrolments Manager, via email or call 7221 6217.