Monday, 21 July 2014

The Essence of Intermediate Schools

Yesterday's local newspaper featured a big front page article on local school, Ross Intermediate and their plans to reduce class sizes drastically in 2015 by integrating the technology and arts curriculum into mainstream classrooms, effectively disestablishing the specialist teachers roles and sharing the workload and class numbers evenly amongst all teachers. 
Sounds fair, and it's bound to win them a bunch of new enrolments, but It worries me slightly, and not just because I'm at a school that competes with them for numbers.

But first a bit of an explanation for those of you not familiar with New Zealand's (fairly unique) intermediate system.
Intermediate schools cater for just 2 years- Y7&8. That's ages 11-13. A pretty formative time in a child's life and the perfect (and perhaps last) opportunity to find one's niche, strengths and passions before selecting courses at High School that may determine the career path that one sets off down.

An intermediate school is typically a blend between the primary school structure of all children in the same class with the same teacher for the day, and the High School model of specialist teachers taking classes in their expert areas. There's good reason for this. Not every teacher can or should be expected to run effective classes in the technology and arts curriculum as it requires both specific knowledge, equipment and passion. 

By the same token, not all specialist teachers have the training or experience to teach a class in the core subjects. I can't speak for the specialist teachers at Ross but at my school, some specialist teachers could easily fit back into regular classroom teaching and some just could not, and nor would it be fair (or possibly even legal) to expect them to. 

It's a bit of an old fashioned system, I'll admit. A few decades ago, intermediate girls would be sent off for cooking and sewing class while the boys went to the workshop. Unfortunately, that's the perception that many have about these specialist roles, as evidenced by our Prime Minister's comments a couple of years ago when for about a week, the Ministry of Education tried to force all intermediates to do exactly what Ross are proposing now.  

The truth is that things have moved on a lot from those days and specialist teachers are providing a lot more than manual training.The programmes offered are a lot more diverse, adhere to the NZ Curriculum, and are amongst the most popular subjects at any Intermediate. 

At my school we also outsource our expertise to other schools who send children to us for our specialist lessons. So I end up spending all week teaching a wide range of children from our school, and several others, how to play and celebrate the music they already appreciate. It's a job I love and do well so it's one I want to hold onto. 

 When I see a school across town disestablishing positions like mine to offer smaller class sizes, which is something the Government should be addressing without having to redeploy expert teachers, it makes me jumpy.

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