Stuck in the Middle

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A message from the Head of Middle School on giving Middle Schooling as much attention as we are giving to the start and finish of school.

Child psychologists have devoted significant analysis to birth order of children and how this impacts their personality and characteristics.  Some identify the “Middle Child” syndrome. The idea goes that “the middle child often feels left out and thinks, ‘Well, I’m not the oldest. I’m not the youngest. Who am I?'”. The middle child, receiving the least attention, may feel less important. Siblings older and younger appear to get much more attention and so the one in the middle feels left out, compensating in different ways, often with peers. Psychologists tell us that birth order matters and there are lots of theories as to the challenges and problems of being the ‘middle child’. Some equate the middle with problems or being out of sight and out of mind.

In the Australian context, it is easy to apply the ‘middle syndrome’ to school, as much attention focuses on the early years and the final stage (when students complete their WACE). These are important stages but overemphasising the start and finish at the cost of the middle years comes with the risk that the early Secondary period is barren, neglected and unproductive. It gives rise to the thinking that, at 15 or 16 years of age, the once impossible child emerges suddenly from the angst and rages of adolescence, transforming into the self-controlled and delightful adult ’butterfly’, ready to sail into Years 11 and 12.  This sort of thinking can predominate if not challenged or checked. For some, the Middle years have been a wasteland of boredom, little meaning, limited engagement, lack of focus and minor attention on the very important needs of students at this critical stage of their lives.

This point in a child’s life, as they take their tentative first steps into Secondary school, coincides with the onset of adolescence, in which the final journey from child to adult commences. In our view at Swan Christian College, the early years of adolescence should be celebrated and Middle Schooling is the time in which students are assisted to find identity, purpose and relevance. The Australian government recognises this through its publication on Excellence and Equity in Australian schooling:

The Melbourne Declaration reads: “The middle years are an important period of learning, in which knowledge of fundamental disciplines is developed, yet this is also a time when students are at the greatest risk of disengagement from learning.  Student motivation and engagement in these years is critical, and can be influenced by tailoring approaches to teaching, with learning activities and learning environments that specifically consider the needs of middle years students. Focusing on student engagement and converting this into learning can have a significant impact on student outcomes.

It adds, An important component in the change from what has been a learner-focused Primary education to more discipline-focused Secondary schooling is the provision of positive experiences in adolescence and the promotion of the concept of life-long learning for the student. The reform process is less about school structure and more related to changes in pedagogy and curriculum. Chadbourne (2001: iii) notes Middle Schooling refers more to a particular type of pedagogy and curriculum than a particular type of school structure It is not about rearranging traditional structures but is a new concept altogether.’”

At Swan Christian College, we are growing our Middle School into something that celebrates ‘middle adolescence’ and engages students, both inside and outside the classroom. It is not a stage in which the students are ‘out of mind, out of sight’ but one in which important skills, attitudes and capabilities are identified and refined. Learning is becoming more student-focused and more flexible with an increasing focus on active learning, assessment for and as learning, teaching Christianity and stronger relationships between staff and students. Whilst character development, restorative practices, confidence and strong pastoral support are key pillars of Middle Schooling, the critical emphasis is on learning in the classroom, including the increasing use of technologies in classrooms.

I am delighted that our staff in Middle School also consider themselves to be learners, continuing to grow and shape classroom practice based on current research – reflecting more focus on the importance of Middle Schooling. I thank the Middle School leadership team and the HOLAs who are working with our key academic staff to build an environment in which students can belong and thrive. They are a committed team of professionals who are facilitating an effective environment for adolescent growth at the College.

The success of a Middle School is not necessarily celebrated or recognised. When it works well, it means more skilled, resilient and engaged students in Senior School and beyond. Nevertheless, Middle Schooling is not the ‘poor cousin’ of schooling but a time in which important learning that builds a platform for future success and the development of lifelong learning skills. We are not just a Middle School in name but one in nature too!

At the moment, the federal government is conducting another review of education and have published an issues paper.

To access the review, issues paper and feedback form, click on the link here:

I encourage everyone to respond using the survey tool on the above link.

Thank you for your ongoing partnership with us in Christian education and I hope the term challenges us all as we continue our adventure in learning together.


Mrs Christine Crump

Head of Middle School (with thanks to David Smith)


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