The taskforce found that in general we need to provide better transitions for our students between schools. It suggests we consider moving away from the current primary-intermediate-college model to one where students move from primary to a middle school to a senior college, for example.
It suggested this is backed up with “community-wide flexible curriculum assessment” with enhanced digital infrastructure.
It also found that we need to do better with Kaupapa Maori schooling and recommended we investigate ways to improve this pathway.
It also suggests we further develop full service schools with more intensive use of school buildings in and out of school hours.
One of the taskforce’s interesting observations was that The Correspondence School (Te Kura) is currently under-utilised and more could be done to incorporate its expertise in flexible learning and working with disengaged students across the entire education system.
What about our intermediate schools?
The future of intermediate schools has been a questioned for many years, but the review has brought it more formally onto the table for discussion.
Bali Haque says the review revealed some “very big questions” about the future of intermediate schools.
“The two-year transition there seems to us really problematic,” he says.
The report goes into further detail.
“We spoke with a number of intermediate school principals/tumuaki who are doing an excellent job of supporting children and young people during these two years. However, all were in agreement that a longer period of “middle schooling” would provide greater stability for their students and enable better support for their learning and wellbeing.
“We are also of the view that the two-year intermediate schooling model is unnecessarily disruptive of learner/ākonga pathways and we are supportive of the network moving toward a middle schooling approach.”
Northcross Intermediate principal Jonathan Tredray feels very strongly about the middle school years in a child’s education. He says the nurturing home-room environment sets kids up for success, allowing them to explore the breadth and depth of the curriculum and find their passion before embarking on secondary school.
If the structure is to be changed, Tredray thinks moving to a Years 6 to 9 model would be preferable to the proposals on the table. This would give Year 10s a fresh start at secondary school and time to gear up for NCEA. Or even a sliding scale that gives students choice to best meet their individual needs.
Steve Mouldey is unsure of the practicalities of changing to a different model.
“So are they merging with the primary schools nearby? Are they actually expanding outwards? I think it would really depend on the size of schools in different areas which way they would want that to happen.”
Haque denies the move would create derelict intermediate schools.
“We don’t see empty buildings, they’ll just be used differently,” he says.
Claire Amos, based on her experience with senior secondary schools, favours the proposed changes, but believes the suggestion to move away from intermediate schools will invoke some “moral panic”.
“They’re often seen as the lost years a little bit, aren’t they?” says Amos, before adding that her own daughters had great experiences of intermediate.
Can we make better use of student data?
The taskforce found that sharing student information across transitions is sometimes limited.
Steve Mouldey believes a lot of the recommendations hinge on the Student Information Sharing Initiative (SISI) coming to fruition.
Claire Amos adds, “Particularly when we know that our most at-risk students are often the most transient. It’s really important that whatever support they need moves with them from school to school.”
Do the recommendations set Māori students up for success?
Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick believes so.
“It is pleasing to see that the Treaty of Waitangi and true partnership with Māori is strongly embedded throughout the report, so rather than seeing Māori as a problem to be fixed, they will be seen as equal participants. Our young Māori people will now be educated in a way that is consistent with their cultural beliefs and practices.”
Are our schools no longer going to be just schools?
Amos is excited for the opportunity for schools to become co-learning spaces where the lines are blurred between our schools, our libraries and our social service provisions. She points out that schools are sitting on incredible resources in terms of spaces that are underutilized.
“It takes a village – let’s bring the village onto the school site.”
Is flexible learning a realistic goal for New Zealand schools?
The taskforce believes that the Virtual Learning Network and Te Kura both have great potential to support and facilitate innovation in online curriculum content, learning, pedagogy and assessment.
The report also questioned why a school still exists as a collection of enclosed, closely-linked, permanent buildings.
“We have heard from various groups, but particularly from those associated with senior schooling, that in the future we need to focus on investing far more in flexible schooling provision, and far less in permanent school buildings. We have heard that this also means thinking more about teaching and learning as activity-based, and community relationship-based, rather than classroom-based.”
As principal of a senior high school, Amos agrees.
“I’d like to see us being a bit less precious about students needing to be on site to learn all the time. There’s got to be flexibility.”