Conceived with great enthusiasm in 1922, the three year (Forms 1 to 3) junior high (later intermediate) schools have remained a controversial feature of the New Zealand education landscape. Ostensibly designed to 'bridge the gap' between the primary and post-primary schools by providing specialist courses to suit the educational needs of young adolescents, the intermediates quickly became embroiled in the 'early specialisation' versus 'exploration of aptitudes' debate. In looking to successive Directors and Ministers of Education for guidance, they found neither a clear nor consistent philosophy to justify their existence. Consequently, the schools were left to develop in their own ways in the hope that a role would somehow be found for them. With the recent restructuring of New Zealand education at a time of declining school enrolments, and as more primary schools seek to recapitate, the intermediate school sector has been forced to reassess its place in the overall education system. The current policy of the New Zealand Intermediate Schools' Principals' Association envisages intermediates being translated into four year, Form 1 to 4, 'middle schools'. This paper explores and critiques the middle school concept in light of the historical origins and changes in intermediate schooling in New Zealand since the 1920s.
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