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Principals support extra high school year

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South Australia’s high school principals have supported the Liberal plan to move Year 7s into the state’s secondary schools – but they say it will require extra government investment.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall announced the plan today, saying it would bring South Australia into line with other states and the national curriculum.

State Labor has ruled out 7-12 high schools and says there is no evidence to support such a move.

Jan Paterson, President of the South Australian Secondary Principals Association, told InDaily that the needs of Year 7 students were too great to be met by a single generalist teacher, as is the common primary school model.

“We’re very concerned that in the Australian curriculum there are areas in Year 7 that we believe need specialist teaching,” Paterson said. “The Liberal Party has addressed that concern by making the shift into high school. We also think the students are of an age where that makes sense.

“In maths and science I don’t believe that the generalist primary school teacher would have the knowledge to be able to address some of the areas, in particular maths and science, in the Australian curriculum.”

She said there were other options for addressing the issue – such as specialist teachers in primary school – but, either way, the issue requires additional investment.

“You’re either going to be paying for greater specialisation and training of teachers … or you’re going to do an investment into some buildings. You’ll need some facilities to cope with young people moving into high school.”

Paterson said not all high schools had the room for more students.

“No, not all of them. There would need to be some analysis done … of what expansion in buildings and facilities would be required for that shift.”

Marshall said today there would be a gradual transition of all South Australian Year 7 students from primary schools to high schools.

An audit of all state schools would determine which schools could immediately adopt the policy, and which would need “extra support through the transition period”.

“South Australia is the only jurisdiction in Australia that still has Year 7 students in primary school and has made no plans for a transition to high school,” Marshall said.

Primary school principals were less enthusiastic, but did not have a formal position on the issue.

Pam Kent, President of South Australian Primary Principals Association, said the policy change would not effect children’s learning but it had the potential to be divisive.

“In some ways it’s a brave move because it’s going to create a lot of controversy,” Kent said.

“There’ll be a lot of parents, principals and teachers out there who will be extremely concerned about this. Children vary enormously at that age in terms of development. Children grow up quickly these days, and there’ll be that concern as well.

“There will be others that will think it’s quite a good idea.”

She said research into the benefits of 7-12 high schools was inconclusive.

“But SA will be the only state by 2015 that’s not looking at it. This in itself doesn’t necessarily matter except that there are lots of transfers from interstate [so] there will be an inconsistency. So that’s a fairly strong argument for changing, and there’s a sense of inevitability about it as well.”

However, she said children were catered for well in primary school, including in the maths and science curriculum.

– with reporting by Liam Mannix

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