A case study of the implementation of middle schooling in New Zealand : a thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This thesis considers the introduction of middle schooling to the New Zealand education system. It is a case study of a school going through the process of introducing the middle schooling concept. It seeks to identify and explain the considerable challenges that this school faced as it sought to implement this change. This research project began as a study of the factors which hinder and support the implementation of middle schooling structures and practices. It became an analysis of the features of middle schooling that make it such a challenging and problematic innovation. Middle schooling is a set of philosophical concepts, educational practices and structural arrangements for the education of students between the ages of approximately ten and fourteen years. These concepts and practices are based on the premise that students of this age have academic, social, emotional and physical needs which differ from students on either side of this age group. Middle schooling is generally understood to involve integrated curriculum which is delivered through team teaching. This approach to teaching and learning requires high levels of teacher collaboration, flexible workspaces and timetables and high levels of parental support and involvement. Ideally, middle schooling provides a separate school environment for children of this age. A number of school communities in New Zealand have gained government approval to restructure as middle schools and are at various stages in implementing this new form of schooling. The researcher began the study with the intention of developing guidelines to assist school communities to make this transition from the structures and processes of conventional schooling arrangements to those of middle schooling. To this end she initiated a programme of action research in a school that was about to introduce middle schooling arrangements for its middle years students. The innovation began to run into difficulties from an early stage and it became clear that an action research methodology was unsustainable. Instead, the researcher chose to refocus the research problem to a more analytic study of the factors that were impeding the implementation process. The research methodology evolved to that of case study. Observational data were collected in the school over two years. From these data, three factors seemed to be affecting the implementation of the middle schooling changes. These were the way in which leadership was being executed, the attitudes and responses of the teachers and the particularly complex and demanding nature of the middle schooling innovation itself. The data were then re-analysed with respect to these three factors. From this analysis, the researcher came to a number of conclusions about the relative importance and impact of these three factors. In an effort to ascertain whether the experiences of the case school were typical of the difficulties and challenges schools face when implementing middle schooling change, the case findings were cross checked against the experiences of two other schools that were five years or more into the change process. The cross checking found that the experiences of these other schools were very similar to those of the case school. All three found that implementing middle schooling change had been more difficult and demanding than any other innovation they had implemented. This study identified some aspects of leadership and teacher behaviour that may have slowed the implementation process, but these seem to have been secondary to the sheer complexity and challenges involved with this particular form of innovation. An innovation that requires such a shift in values, behaviour, structures and systems from a school community, and one that requires the sustained commitment of the entire staff over an extended period of time, will always prove to be exceptionally challenging. The case study identified five requirements that middle school implementers need to consider in order to implement the concept successfully. Failure to consider any of these requirements is likely to threaten the success of the innovation. The five requirements are: • The need to develop a shared understanding of the concept rationale and principles and how these will be operationalised within the school; • The need to develop a shared understanding of the complex, multi-faceted and integrated nature of the innovation and how this will impact on and influence the implementation process; • The need for strong, visionary, shared leadership; • The need to gain the interest and operational commitment of the entire staff and a high level of interest and commitment from the parent community and to sustain this for the life of the innovation; and • The need to develop supportive and appropriate infrastructure within the school to support the innovation.