Schools for pre-adolescents: a comparative study of the 9-13 middle school in Dorset

Seymour, Kathleen (2012) Schools for pre-adolescents: a comparative study of the 9-13 middle school in Dorset. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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When they first appeared on England’s educational landscape, middle schools held the promise of providing a schooling environment ideally suited to the needs of pre-adolescents. This research aims to assess how far they have fulfilled that promise.

As a convenient and cost-effective means of reorganising schooling along comprehensive lines, the number of middle schools steadily increased from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s. Since 1982 their numbers have declined and today they form a small minority of state schools in England. Many of the remaining middle schools are under threat of closure as local authorities opt to reorganise into the more common two-tier schooling system with transfer from primary to secondary school at age 11.

Using Dorset County Council’s administrative area as a case study, I examine the educational and social aspects of middle schools for children aged 9-13, and compare these with the equivalent age ranges in the two-tier schooling system.

Employing a mixed methods approach, the views of headteachers, teachers, pupils, former pupils, parents and the local authority were collected via questionnaires, an interview and a discussion group.

My research uncovered evidence that children in middle schools may receive a less rich educational experience than their counterparts in the two-tier system and overall, middle school participants exhibited a more negative attitude towards the academic side of their schooling experience. These findings were particularly notable among those in the upper two years of middle schools, suggesting that children aged 11 and above would enjoy a superior educational experience in secondary schools. A clear trend was evident for middle school pupils to ‘out-grow’ their middle school as they progressed through the year groups and for many participants the transfer to a new school was well overdue by Year 8. There was little to suggest that children’s social development is better nurtured in a middle school environment, though there were indications that social relationships at the middle school are better than those at secondary schools and that children’s emotional well-being is better supported.

I argue that the inception, development and downfall of the middle school has been characterised by a lack of clarity and consistency in its form and identity which has failed to make it robust enough to withstand national shifts in educational policy and pedagogy. The future of the middle school is discussed and I conclude that isolating the pre-adolescent years in a separate schooling unit might not be the best strategy, and argue instead that a recognition of the particular needs of the pre-adolescent should be an inherent part of our education system whatever form or structure our individual schools take on.

My research updates our knowledge on what has been an under-researched aspect of England’s education system for many years and, unlike many previous studies, addresses the views of multiple stakeholders and compares the opinions and experiences of those associated with both the two-tier and three-tier schooling systems. It provides a broad-ranging examination of the middle school in the context of its probable eventual disappearance and encourages policy-makers and practitioners to consider the ‘middle years’ above ‘middle schools’.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Newton, L.R.
Noyes, A.J.
Keywords: Middle schools, England, social aspects, preteens
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary education. High schools
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 12797
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2013 11:07
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2016 22:04

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