OPINION: Peter Simpson, principal of Belfast School, rejects the point of view that intermediate schools are best suited to providing education for year 7 and 8 pupils.
I read with interest an article by Jane Dunbar (Changes fail pupils caught in the middle, Dec 13), questioning whether Christchurch's intermediate schools are under attack around the new plans for schooling in Christchurch.
In extolling their virtues for the children at years 7 and 8, some of the intermediate principals' claims and actions have a degree of desperation, which could lead one to think that they believe they are indeed under attack.
While intermediates are resourced for intermediate-aged pupils, full primaries (year 1 to 8) are resourced per pupil at the same rate for the same-aged pupils.
The statement made in the article by the principal of Casebrook Intermediate, that intermediates can specialise in offering the right kind of playground equipment to meet the physical challenges of these pupils is clearly nonsense, as is her claim that the teaching resources that engage these pupils can only be found in intermediates or that they alone can provide specialisation in academic areas.
Year 1-8 full primaries can and they do. Indeed, the research tells us that the biggest single factor leading to student success is what the teacher does, not the school type, size or decile.
The same principal also claims that it is only intermediates who understand the physical and emotional needs of these pupils and that they only will provide a better level and range in cultural, arts and sports programmes for this age group. This is again stretching the point.
All these claims assume that full primaries cannot do this and a child has to attend an intermediate to access and achieve success in these areas. The reality is that full primaries do this and in some cases, the opportunities for the pupils exceed that offered by intermediates.
Full primaries are just as capable of having high levels of engagement from these students, along with a healthy and positive attitude towards learning and themselves. The research on this level of schooling tells us the success for these children will always depend on how the individual teacher and school provide for that age group, rather than one type of school being better than other types of schools.
For those associated with intermediates, to believe and suggest they are the best and only schools capable of delivering these types of outcomes for year 7 and 8 pupils is open for debate and clearly questionable. After all, full primaries have been doing a great job for 160 years and will continue to do so in ways that suit family and community choice.
Full primaries have had to put up with the aggressive marketing of intermediates over many years, via attempts to extend their zones and the bussing of pupils from areas outside of what would be their normal catchment zone, in their mistaken belief they are the only schools capable of succeeding with year 7 and 8 pupils.
Any similar behaviour in the future by intermediates would be hard to justify on two accounts.
First, under the new initiatives being introduced by the Ministry of Education, of a brave new world in Christchurch, where school clusters are working together to develop learning outcomes for all pupils within the cluster, any such move is hardly the action of a school willing to work collaboratively.
The Christchurch renewal plan is dependent on co-operation, collaboration and mutual support of schools in a geographical area, and any school action that is contrary to this would be disappointing and puts any renewal plan in jeopardy.
Second, when the Government attempted to introduce higher class sizes last year, one of the casualties was intermediates, particularly their technology classes. The whole sector, along with parents, saw that this was a backward move and rallied together to object, including full primaries who actually stood to benefit with their staffing at the year 7 and 8 level.
It would be a shame that, despite the threat they may feel they are under in Christchurch, some intermediates could not see the big picture other than their own empires.
Incentivising a choice of an intermediate above local schools must not go unchallenged and one would certainly hope that the Ministry of Education would also be challenging these moves, given their plans and hope for the Christchurch school network.
THE STORY SO FAR
There are currently 11 intermediate schools in Christchurch, but the schools shake-up proposals would reduce that number to six. Linwood, Shirley, Branston, Manning and Chisnallwood intermediate schools are all under threat.
Intermediate principals have argued that their schools play a key role in helping ease students from primary to secondary. They say research suggests that the age 10 to 14 is a special time for young people and there are proven ways of working with them.
Sharon Keen, principal of Casebrook Intermediate, says intermediate schools' main point of difference is that "every resource we have is especially developed to meet the needs of the emerging adolescent".
- The Press
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