Middle School Research

Information on middle schools in England

What is a middle school?

The middle school in England is the middle 'tier' of a three tier schooling system in which children attend a first or primary school from ages 5 to 8 or 9, then a middle school from ages 8-12 or 9-13 and then an upper or secondary school from ages 12 or 13 to 16 or 18. In some parts of the country middle schools operate for the 10-13 or 10-14 age range, and in others there are 'all through' schools which cater for age 5 through to 12 or 13, however, 8-12 and 9-13 are the most common forms of middle school. Most parts of England operate a two-tier schooling structure which comprises a primary school (or infant and then junior schools) for ages 5-10 and then secondary schools for ages 11-16 or 18. Other countries operate middle school systems for various age ranges between 8 and 14.

Middle schools in England are 'deemed' to be primary or secondary by the DfES and for statistical reports middle schools are often grouped together with either primary or secondary schools depending on their 'deemed' status. To see a graph showing the number of middle schools (separated into those deemed primary and those deemed secondary) in England from 1975 to 2006, click here.

Why do we have middle schools?

The following gives a brief outline of events in English education policy which led to the creation of middle schools and have influenced their current situation:

•  In 1930 Sir Henry Hadow reported on secondary education and recommended a move away from educating children in one school from ages 5 to 14. A break was suggested at age 11, the age at which it was felt adolescence began, when children would transfer from a primary to a secondary school.

•  The 1944 Education Act embodied transfer at age 11 in legislation by requiring that primary to secondary transfers take place between ages 10 years, six months and 12 years. The 1944 Act also raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15 which was put into practice in 1947.

•  In the 1950s the Labour Party committed to the principle of equality of education for all and resolved to abolish secondary selection; a policy that would eventually have a major impact on the shape of England 's education system.

•  In 1963 the Central Advisory Council for Education ( England ) was established under the chairmanship of Lady Plowden for the purposes of enquiring into and making recommendations on all aspects of primary education. The Plowden Committee did not report until 1967 and events moved on in the intervening years.

•  In 1964 Labour won the general election and set about putting their policy of comprehensive secondary education into practice. This was achieved primarily through the issue of DES (Department for Education and Science) Circular 10/65 which required LEAs to submit plans for the reorganisation of secondary education along comprehensive lines. Circular 10/65 suggested six possible methods for achieving comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education, the sixth of which was conversion to a three-tier system of schooling involving 9-13 middle schools.

•  The 1964 Education Act amended the 1944 Act to allow transfers at ages other than 11 on an experimental basis; until this point middle schools were technically illegal (Blyth and Derricott, 1977). The 1964 Act also allowed for the classification of middle schools as either primary or secondary schools.

•  The issue of DES Circular 13/66 in 1966 addressed the imminent raising of the statutory school leaving age from 15 to 16 and mentioned middle schools as one possible solution to the overcrowding this change might cause in secondary schools. Circular 13/66 also admitted that the ideal of non-selective secondary education which the Government was striving towards could be achieved sooner if an age of transfer other than 11 was adopted and that a later transfer age could alleviate the pressures on the ever-growing secondary schools (Blyth and Derricott, 1977). The circular made it clear that changes in the age of transfer would be considered according to local needs rather than addressing the issue through the channels of national policy.

•  The Plowden Report was published in 1967 and, recognising the variations in individual rates of development in children, the Committee recommended more flexibility over the age of transfer from primary to secondary education. The Plowden Report advocated a system involving 8-12 middle schools on the basis that they should draw upon all that was good about primary school practice. The recommendations of the Plowden Report (and its Welsh counterpart, the Gittens Report) were never adopted.

•  In September 1968 the first middle schools in England opened.

•  In 1970 the Conservatives returned to Government and the then Secretary of State for Education, Margaret Thatcher, issued Circular 10/70 which replaced Circular 10/65 and repealed the obligation on LEAs to reorganise secondary education along comprehensive lines, although middle schools were still permitted.

•  The incoming Labour Government in 1974 resumed their efforts to abolish selective secondary education by reversing Conservative policy through the issue of Circular 4/74. This made specific reference to middle schools as one possible form of non-selective schooling.

•  The Education Reform Act introduced under a Conservative Government in 1988 made no reference to preferred systems of schooling but did establish a National Curriculum framework which defined distinct ‘Key Stages' in the schooling of children and introduced compulsory national testing at the end of each Key Stage. This impacted on middle schools as it meant they were teaching pupils during the latter stages of Key Stage 2 and the early years of Key Stage 3, whereas schools in the two-tier system did not ‘straddle' the Key Stages in this manner with primary schools teaching all of Key Stages 1 and 2 and secondary schools dealing with Key Stages 3 and 4 in their entirety.


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