Relationships key to schools restructuring

Parents have expressed concern
about their children leaving Year 6 to be lumped into school with older
students.

The new arrangement will split the
high school from years 7 to 11 between two high schools, which will be further
split into seven smaller academies holding a maximum of 300 students each from
years 7 through to 11 with only about 60 students in each year in each academy.

Parents expressed concerns that
young children will be in school with much older students and that the
transition to the new system will be unsettling.

In the current system, after
students leave primary school in Year 6, they first attend one of the four 250
student academies at George Hicks High School for years 7, 8 and 9. They then
transfer over to John Gray High School for years 10, 11 and 12. At present 1,109
students in years 7, 8 and 9 attend George Hicks and 1,012 students in years 10
through 12 attend John Gray.

Head of Curriculum Services Clive
Baker said the new schools should be more welcoming to all students, as the new
system is aimed at building stronger relationships among students of varying
ages and between students and their teachers.

While the initial transition from
primary school to a larger school can be bothersome to some children, the
overall year 7-11 scheme works.

“The transition to large high
schools can be difficult for students leaving primary school,” said Chief Education
Officer Shirley Wahler.

“Students experience less
disruption overall in Year 7–11 schools, with fewer transitions to cause stress
and interfere with learning.”

The smaller academies with their smaller
class are intended to provide both academic and disciplinary benefits.

“For those parents worried that
their children will be going to John Gray for example, it is not the same John
Gray that exists today they will be going into,” said Mrs. Wahler.

She explained that at age 11,
children are open to forming relationships with teachers, which provides a
strong foundation to carry them through the stormier times of later adolescence
and the challenging exam years.

John Gray Principal Aldin
Bellinfantie said research all over the world indicates most problems take
place in middle schools, particularly in year 9.

“But right now at age 14 we pull
them out of their environment; that is just a bad time for changes to be
happening in their lives,” said Mrs. Wahler.

 “All-through schools and small academies allow
for strong and sustained relationships with peers and teachers,” said Mrs.
Wahler.

She said the academies will provide
an environment that is important for helping children succeed, offering
reassurance that children will be in more family like environments.

By having the same teachers looking
over a smaller number of students from year to year, identifying and assisting
students who are struggling or gifted will be easier and can take place
earlier.

She also reassured parents that
their concerns about troublemakers in the school are being addressed.

“Parents think that if we keep
small kids separated from big kids they will be safer, but a lot of research
has been done on this topic,” she said. “It has been found that when you have a
broad range of ages there is less violence than in schools with huge groups of students
all of the same age.”

Mr. Baker noted that all schools
have troublemakers, with a small number of students responsible for a lot of
the problems in the schools, but said there will be more posts and roles for
supervision and positive behavioural standards are being introduced.

“We are trying to deal with the
problems we are having right now by making these changes,” he said.

However, both he and Mrs. Wahler
pointed out that it is not the schools themselves that cause problems.

 “It is not John Gray that is the issue,” he
said, and reminded parents that many so-called troubled kids lack support and
structure at home. “When the parents come to us and say ‘oh well we can’t do
anything’, what are the teachers supposed to do?”

Parents at the meeting loudly
voiced their approval for one mother’s comment that the behaviour of kids
should be the parents’ responsibility, and parents should support teachers.

The meetings also addressed
academics including exams at the end of Year 11 and new options for students in
the new Year 12 programme.

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