Middle years approaches to schooling challenge the traditional ways young adolescents have been educated (Anfara et al., 2003; NMSA, 2003). The middle years of schooling has been an area of significant interest due to issues around students' disengagement with learning, slumps in academic outcomes, and levels of literacy and numeracy achievement (Dinham & Rowe, 2007). While the impetus for taking up middle schooling reforms differs from country to country, the common element is the focus on young adolescents as a distinct group of students with unique developmental needs with an urgent requirement to improve learning outcomes and long term engagement with formal schooling for this age group (Chadbourne & Pendergast, 2010).
Middle schooling had seemingly earned a legitimate position in educational discourse and systemic considerations. However, there are signs that middle schooling has 'slipped' from mainstream education agendas. In Australia, evidence of this can be seen in new national curriculum frameworks where reference to middle years is significantly absent (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, 2011; Bahr & Crosswell, 2011). In the United Kingdom, the introduction of the National Curriculum in the late 1980's supported a two tiered schooling system, which has disseminated the uptake of middle schooling practices. Whereas, in the USA middle schooling has experienced a “boom-to-bust” cycle and is struggling to reinvent itself in response to new educational priorities (Beane, 2001; Faulkner & Cook, 2006).
This paper seeks to presents an overview of the rise and the lost ground of middle years internationally, presenting Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA as separate case studies. It traces the various educational environments that originally led to the prominence of middle years reforms in each country, outlines key milestones and the current educational agendas impacting on middle years.