Lessons from across The Pond - what could we learn from Junior High?

Conversation turns to education quite often in our house, and on 4th July, Independence Day in the US, it turned unsurprisingly to American education.

Having listened just a couple of weeks before to a talk by Sarah Jayne Blakemore, an expert on the adolescent brain and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, we were again struck by the fact that Junior High – that place we could never quite identify in Saturday morning television shows – is a brilliant idea.

Grades 6 to 8 (11 to 13 years old) have a school of their own. They’ve outgrown the primary years and are ready for bigger things: a larger school, more subjects and more sports, but most have not yet hit puberty and many are not ready for the cut and thrust of a large senior school.  More importantly, they are undergoing enormous physical, psychological and intellectual changes and the type of school you think will be right for your 11 year old may well be quite different for the one you’d choose at 14.

Of course the independent sector in the UK used to recognise this, to some extent.  Girls would move school at 11 or 12, but boys – generally thought to mature later – would be at a prep school for an extra two or three years.  But with the move towards co-education, this has changed significantly.

Now, we wonder, is everyone losing out?  According to Professor Blakemore, girls and boys are both at a unique phase in their development for the early adolescent years (11-13).  So neither boys nor girls really benefit from being either left behind or pushed forward at 11 years old.  They deserve to be treated uniquely, not tacked on to anyone else’s educational needs.

  • Early adolescence is a time of change and reinvention for children – does changing schools at 14 allow them to present their new selves to friends and teachers?
  • Five years is a long time in the life of a child.  Many pupils are unsurprisingly itching to change schools after that time – is sixth form a good time for that to happen or would the break better be made earlier?
  • In schools that pre-select at 11 for entry at 13, are they really selecting the right child for the school? 

The American system suddenly looks rather appealing to us – giving each phase of a child’s development its time and space and educating them according to that phase.  Is it time to stop fiddling with our exams and start restructuring our schools?

4th of July heralds the very end of school term for many... something of a hiatus for everyone, but if you find that the down-time ushers in thoughts of what next? Talk to us. It's business as usual until the end of July!