How and what do they learn at secondary school?

The way your child learns at secondary school differs greatly from the way they have at primary and intermediate school.

Students are usually grouped in classes, but go to different teachers for each subject they are studying as opposed to spending the majority of the school day with the same teacher at primary and intermediate school.

During the course of the day they may move between a number of classrooms and may not necessarily be with the other students in their home/form class.

There are a couple of ways in which schools organize or structure students into classes. Firstly they will be placed within a home/form class.

Home / Form Classes –

Students are grouped in a class which becomes a ‘base’ group of students. There are two ways in which they can be grouped and different schools prefer different approaches:

Vertical home/form class –

Grouping students vertically means there is a range of year levels within the one class of students. The class will be made up of a range of year 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 students and there may be anywhere from 15 – 30 students in this class depending on role size etc.

Vertical home/form classes are sometimes favoured for ‘peer mentoring’ and ‘pastoral care’ reasons. This format of class allows the younger students a chance to get to know develop relationships with the more senior members of the class. Sometimes there are few other opportunities for this to occur.

If the school does group home/form classes in this way more often than not students will also be grouped in a class that become a ‘base’ class for their core subject learning. It will be a class of students in the same year level as each other.

Horizontal home / form class –

A horizontal home/form class is one in which students from the same year level are grouped together. This means that the class will be made up of all year 10 students for example.

Students then attend their core subjects with this class and are only ‘broken up’ when they move to their option subjects.

The home/form class will be assigned a teacher who becomes their ‘Form Teacher’ and whom they align themselves to. This teacher may be responsible for things like

  • following up on absences,
  • receiving any correspondence coming in from home – permission slips etc.
  • keeping up to date on how his/her students are doing academically and commenting on this in reports,
  • contacting parents about minor issues
  • ensuring social aspects of the class are harmonious.

Streaming –

Streaming is a controversial topic, and it has many critics. Some schools choose to ‘stream’ classes academically. It means students are grouped due to their academic ability, so that all those in the class are achieving at the same level.

Students are generally streamed according to assessment results at the end of each year for the coming year. The core subjects – mathematics, English, science and social studies will be used to determine where a child will be placed academically. Individual schools will determine which of these core subjects they choose to use in their streaming process.

Streaming is controversial for a few reasons.

Some believe that grouping the lower academic ability students together will provide them with no impetus to strive for better; that they may then believe they are ‘not so bright’ and not capable of achieving at a higher level. There is also speculation that streaming allows students to slide along and not really achieve anything, especially in the middle streams.

There are also concerns voiced about teacher allocation at streamed schools. Critics are suspicious that the ‘higher ability classes’, normally referred to 4A or 6A for example, are given the very talented, experienced, or senior teachers. Advocates of streaming and streamed schools argue that there are no better teachers at their schools; that all of their teachers are of a high quality.

Unfortunately reality dictates that all teachers are not equal.

What will they learn?

What students are taught at secondary school is based on the New Zealand Curriculum. This Curriculum is a document that sets down for education providers what our children need to know and be able to do by the time they leave school.

The New Zealand Curriculum has been developed to ensure that all children in New Zealand are catered for in education.

It also recognises that

  • we live in a highly technological age and students must be prepared to cope with a variety of complex information throughout their lives.
  • children need to be flexible and adaptable as change is inevitable and
  • students need to be willing to and commit to learning throughout their lives.

They need to recognize that learning doesn’t stop when they leave school.

So alongside learning core subjects students are being exposed to situations and opportunities to learn these things.

All schools use the Curriculum as the basis for their lesson and unit planning. Within it is specified that students will be taught core subjects at school. There are seven of these English, maths, science, technology, social sciences/studies, the arts and health and physical education.

Year 9 and 10 –

At Year 9 and 10 level students will generally be taught five of these core subjects on a regular basis. These five are English, maths, science, social sciences and health and physical education. The two remaining subjects, technology and the arts, are covered in the option choice students get at this stage. For example your son/daughter may choose to take art and food technology as options.

The subject makeup of Year 9 and 10 is school specific but this is generally the way it will work.

Year 11 –

It is at this point that students have greater control over the subjects they take at school. Having said this there are still compulsory core subjects that the majority of secondary schools require them to attend.

The wider range of courses available to students from this point reflects the need for them to begin thinking about future careers paths, work and training options.

In general it is still compulsory for students at Year 11 to take English, maths and science as core subjects. It is now the case that schools are able to offer a wide range of ability levels within each subject so there are still choices to be made about what level/qualifications a student wants to take in English for example.

Year 12 and 13 –

Some schools will still set compulsory subjects for their Year 12 and 13 students. If they do these are likely to again be English and maths of one variety or another. From this point on the subject choice is that of the student.

Pre-requisite course entry may become an issue at this stage. For example a student who has not till this point taken any course related to business studies or economics may not be able take up a specialised subject like accounting.

Schools should provide students and parents with subject choice information sometime within the third or fourth term in order for all the options to be explored. Most schools now also offer option evenings which enable both student and parent to attend and ask questions of relevant teachers about certain subjects, career paths and so on.

There is a reason English and maths continue to feature throughout a student’s secondary school career. These two subjects form the important basis of literacy and numeracy. There is a continuing commitment in NZ education to producing New Zealanders that are literate and have good numeracy skills as both of these play a huge part in our being able to function in the wider world.

They also form the basis of University Entrance once a person leaves school to continue their education. (See Assessment)

The Kiwi Families Team

This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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