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The association dedicated exclusively to the education, development and growth of young adolescents

Position Paper

Research and Background information:


About Adolescent Success

Adolescent Success  is an Australia-wide peak body organisation dedicated exclusively to the education, development and growth of young adolescents.  Adolescent Success aims to:

  • inform individuals, professional educators, parents and the wider community about the nature of education in the middle years of schooling 
  • promote the achievements and efforts of individuals, professional educators, parents and the wider community in meeting the developmental needs and interests of young adolescents 
  • provide a voice for those interested in and committed to the education, development and growth of young adolescents 
  • identify and encourage relevant research in the areas of the middle years of schooling.

Positions adopted by the Association are based on relevant learning theory, informed practice, research into adolescent development and other research pertinent to the middle years of schooling.  This position paper draws together these understandings to locate middle years students in the Australian context, often echoing and affirming the positions of other organisations and educators. This position paper has been developed to be used as an advocacy instrument for middle schooling.  Adolescent Success advocates to: middle years educators, including teachers, parents and related professionals; teacher education institutions; systems and organisations providing middle years education.  

Middle years?

The middle years, from around age ten to fifteen, span the years from childhood to adolescence. Young adolescents in the middle years experience a range of significant physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and moral changes. During puberty, young adolescents experience more rapid and dramatic hormonal and structural changes than at any other period in their life. The sequence of physical change is generally similar from one person to another, although the onset, rate, and timing of these changes are highly individual, often creating stress and feelings of insecurity for the adolescent. Changes to brain and cognitive development peak during this period. Apart from the first five years of life, at no other time does the capacity and functioning of the brain undergo such an overhaul. This affects the learning ability of young adolescents and their success in managing the emotional, social and moral challenges of this stage. Disengagement, alienation and boredom in school often peak in the middle years and this may lead to a decline in achievement. Hence the middle years, particularly with respect to the productive engagement of young people in schooling and other contexts, is a priority for educators.  

How do we define middle schooling today?

Middle schooling is an intentional approach to teaching and learning that is responsive and appropriate to the full range of needs, interests and achievements of middle years students in formal and informal schooling contexts. Middle schooling has the following elements:

  1. Clear philosophy relevant to the context.
  2. Comprehensive range of signature practices to engage young adolescents in relevant, meaningful and challenging learning, along with organisational initiatives to facilitate their implementation, such as: 
  • higher order thinking strategies
  • integrated and disciplinary curricula that are negotiated, relevant and challenging
  • heterogeneous and flexible student groupings
  • cooperative learning and collaborative teaching
  • small learning communities that provide students with sustained individual attention in a safe and healthy school environment
  • emphasis on strong teacher–student relationships through extended contact with a small number of teachers and a consistent student cohort
  • authentic and reflective assessment with high expectations
  • democratic governance and shared leadership
  • parental and community involvement in student learning.

3.  Evidence-based approach with clearly articulated outcomes, such as:

  • developing current and lifelong learning attributes
  • enhanced academic outcomes
  • creation of a love of learning.

Middle schooling implementation typically involves three phases: Initiation, Development and Consolidation. The elements of middle schooling should be increasingly evident as the reforms are implemented over time.  

Adolescent Success Middle Schooling Model: Position Paper

There is an interconnectedness between the four concepts of Educators , Places, Pedagogy and Adolescents, critical for middle schooling success. Middle schooling optimises the learning opportunities of young Adolescents in the middle years so that their potential to live and work successfully in contemporary society, today and in the future, is enhanced.  Middle schooling features the adoption of interdependent and aligned Pedagogies across the domains of pastoral care, assessment and curriculum; and through organisational initiatives in their learning Placeswith key middle school Educators.

Young Adolescents are changing:

Physically: young adolescents are experiencing  many physical changes as their bodies develop into young adults at varying stages and rates. Physical appearance is very important to young adolescents, often driving a desire to engage in trends for acceptance. Positive body-image programs and messages are vital to effectively inform students about the facts of physical change, as well as strategies for self-acceptance, well-being and health, and to highlight and discourage the effects that stereotyping can have on young adolescents.  

Intellectually: young adolescents seek intellectual challenge whilst still developing thinking capability.  Curriculum must be genuinely challenging, relevant and stimulating in order to engage them in their learning, inclusive of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, creativity  and purpose.

Emotionally: young adolescents experience heightened emotions due to the changing nature of their physiology as they prepare for puberty and adulthood.  Access to regular and ongoing mentoring and support services, including  counselling is crucial in order to support the wellbeing of every young adolescent during the middle years phase. 

Socially: the approval of their peers is crucial during adolescence, sometimes leading to acceptance-driven decisions, which at times will be contrary to parental or societal expectations. Social circles and social activities become increasingly important during adolescence, as they seek to ‘fit into’ and find their place in the social landscape.

Ethically: ethical understandings are a significant part of the holistic development of young people.  Young adolescents are asking many questions, and need to explore and develop their sense of identity, to learn and understand what they believe in and voice their values.  They are intensely concerned about social justice and issues that impact their world.

People who educate in the middle years are:

Dedicated: educators are advocates for this age group. They have a well developed understanding of the unique needs of young adolescents and a commitment to continuously enhance their understanding.  They use this understanding to cater for learning experiences that challenge and grow young adolescents.

Empathetic: educators show an ability to understand the changing and often volatile feelings of young adolescents. They are willing to walk alongside young adolescents in their learning and are able to look beyond the ‘what’ of behaviour to the consider the ‘why’. 

Relational: the most important thing an educator can do is to develop a positive relationship with their young adolescent learner.  It is essential to be emotionally predictable and fair.

Knowledgeable: educators know andunderstand the idiosyncrasies of the young adolescent learner, effects of maturation, brain development, the power of technology and are interested in young adolescents. They have gained specific skills on adolescent education from reputable training institutions through further research and professional learning.

Passionate: educators are passionate about teaching this age level of student.  They have and show energy and enthusiasm, strong feelings and/or beliefs about and for these learners, and are skilled and excited about teaching and learning in the middle years.  

Places of learning in the middle years are:

Democratic: they are places that ensure learning occurs in inclusive environments, where young adolescents have a voice that is valued, and where collaboration and decision-making is integral to learning. 

Positive: they arecreative learning communities that foster confidence, optimism and success for all. 

Safe: they provide an environment that builds and celebrates learning and  diversity. They allow the unique characteristics of each individual to develop, fostering a sense of community.

Engaging: they are places where learners have opportunity to connect with their world through relevant experiences and activities that  promote and nurture imagination and creativity.

Diverse: they offer variety and diversity of learning methodologies, through  a wide range of programs, contexts and learning  areas. They are accepting and inclusive of all cultural backgrounds. 

Flexible: they allow individual and collaborative activity, personalisation with opportunities for play and movement. They are aesthetically appealing and functional.

Pedagogy in the middle years is: 

Innovative: teaching and learning explores and incorporates new, advanced and transformative practices into programs. by encouraging new initiatives, entrepreneurialism and creative thinking.

Challenging: by having high expectations of young adolescents, the teaching and learning challenges their thinking and capacity to learn, causing them to rise to the expectations and be excited about their learning.

Integrative: teaching subjects in a way that promotes relevant and effective work and life skills is essential in the middle years. Educators are knowledgeable and skilled in multidisciplinary teaching, capable of making natural links between curriculum areas, engaging in learning experiences that connect multiple areas. Core teaching teams  are ideal in the middle years.

Informed: pedagogical practices utilised are current research and current evidence based, and teams are specifically trained, ensuring that educators implement these practices.

Inclusive: pedagogical practices recognisethe diversity of learners, acknowledging that they have a range of different personalities, aptitudes and attitudes, cultural, religious, prior experiences and current needs.

Relevant: teaching and learning experiences are challenging, dynamic and exploratory by nature, and are negotiated, differentiated, integrated and/or interdisciplinary.   

Pastoral: pedagogical practices fosterin young adolescents empathy, compassion, gratitude, a sense of belonging and connectedness, recognising it is an education of the heart alongside an education of the mind.

Responsible: pedagogical practices create an understanding that learning empowers young adolescents to be community minded and thus be active citizens who contribute positively to society.

Global: pedagogical practices developyoung adolescents as global learners and citizens, who can come to understand their place in the world. They are enthused and compelled to make connections, engage with and learn from others.

Adolescent Success Position Paper and other Research documents: 

AMLE. (2022) Research in middle level education. Retrieved from

Avid Open Access. (2022). Engage students by cultivating their curiosity. San Diego. Retrieved from

Brisbane Catholic Education. (2004). Pathways for middle schooling: Walking the talk. Retrieved from

Bryer. F., & Main, K. (2005). Moving middle schooling reform from policy to practice. Issues in Educational Research, 15. Retrieved from

Carrington, V. (2002). ‘The Middle Years of Schooling in Queensland: A Way Forward’, Discussion paper prepared for Education Queensland. December 2002. Retrieved from

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. (2008). 21st century learning: Research, innovation and policy directions from recent OECD Analyses. Retrieved from

Coffey, A., (2013). Relationships: The key to successful transition from primary to secondary school? Sage Publications.

Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2019). The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration. Australian Government. 

Education Queensland. (2003). ‘See the Future – Reforming the Middle Phase of Learning’. The Middle Phase of Learning State School Action Plan. Retrieved from

Evans, D., Borriello, G., & Field, A. (2018). A review of the academic and psychological impact of the transition to secondary education. Frontiers in Psychology: Educational Psychology. Retrieved from

Fullarton, S. (2002). Student engagement with school: individual and school-level influences. Australian Council for Educational Research. (ACER). Retrieved from

Fuller, A., (2022). Don’t waste your breath: An introduction to the mysterious world of the adolescent brain. Retrieved from

Hegazy, H., & Barton, G. (2017). Formative assessment in the middle years: A review of literature and alignment with the Guiding Principles for Junior Secondary. Griffith University, University of Southern Queensland. Retrieved from

Hill, P.W., Russell, V.J. (1999). Systemic, Whole-School Reform of the Middle Years of Schooling. In: Bosker, R.J., Creemers, B.P.M., Stringfield, S. (eds) Enhancing Educational Excellence, Equity and Efficiency. Springer, Dordrecht. Retrieved from

Luke, A., Elkins, J., Weir, K., Land, R., Carrington, V., Dole, S., Pendergast, D., Kapitzke, C., van Kraayenoord, C., Moni, K., McIntosh, A., Mayer, D., Bahr, M., Hunter, L., Chadbourne, R., Bean, T., Alverman, D., Stevens, L.  (2003).  Beyond the Middle: A Report about Literacy and Numeracy Development of Target Group Students in the Middle Years of Schooling. Brisbane: JS McMillan Printing Group.

Maguire, B., & Yu, M. (2018) Transition to secondary.  The longitudinal study of Australian children. Growing up in Australia. LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014 chapter— October 2018. Retrieved from,school%20rather%20than%20the%20oldest. 

Maguire, B., & Yu, M. (2018) Transition to secondary.  The longitudinal study of Australian children. Growing up in Australia. LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014 chapter— October 2018. Retrieved from,school%20rather%20than%20the%20oldest. 

Main, K. (2016). Australian Middle Years Reform. In: Haslam, I.R., Khine, M.S. (eds) Leveraging Social Capital in Systemic Education Reform. Contemporary Approaches to Research in learning Innovations. Sense Publishers, Rotterdam. Retrieved from

Maxey, A., (2019). Middle school matters: When a whole school district decides to make middle level education a priority, amazing things happen., Association of Middle Level Educators. Retrieved from

Microsoft and McKinsey & Company’s Education Practice. (2022). Class of 2030 and life-ready learning. Retrieved from 

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA). (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Retrieved from:

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. (2021). The childhood to adolescence transition study. Retrieved from

Pendergast, D., Main, K., Barton, G., Kanasa, H., Geelan, D., & Dowden, T. (2015). The education change model as a vehicle for reform: Shifting year 7 and implementing junior secondary in Queensland. Australian Journal of Middle Schooling. (15) 2:4-18. 

Pendergast, D., Flanagan, R., Land, R., Bahr, M., Mitchell, J., Weir, K., Noblett, G., Cain, M., Misich, T., Carrington, V., & Smith. J. (2005). Developing lifelong learners in the middle years of schooling. A report about the practices, processes, strategies, and structures that best promote ‘lifelong learning’ and the development of lifelong learners in the middle years of schooling. Department of Education and Arts Curriculum. Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA).

Ross, K. (2019). Teacher talk’: striving for engagement not compliance. Australian Journal of Middle Schooling. 19-2 (34-40). 

Student Wellbeing Hub.  (2020). Why schools need to focus on middle years. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from 

Van Rens, M., Haelermans, C., Groot, W., & van den Brink, Maassen. (2018). Facilitating a successful transition to secondary school (how) does it work? A systematic literature review. Adolescent Res Rev. 3:43–56 DOI 10.1007/s40894-017-0063-2 

Wenden, E. J. (2015). Rising to the challenge: Exploring the transition from primary to secondary education in a Western Australian school. Retrieved from 

Zbar, V., (2014) Work like the best. Review of middle schooling in the northern Territory. Final report. Retrieved from

Whilst there is a variety of literature from overseas contexts, two significant papers to note from the United States are This We Believe(NMSA) and Turning Points.

  • This We Believe was first published in 1982 by the National Middle School Association in USA. It sought to provide “clarification and direction” for the ”emerging educational reform effort” (NMSA, 2005:vii) that was growing in the States. The paper was reissued in 1992, subsequently reprinted five more times, revised in 1995 (second edition) and rewritten in 2003 (This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents.) The document “sets forth a vision to guide the decisions of those responsible for shaping educational programs that are committed to improving both learning and learners” (NMSA, 2005:1).
    National Middle School Association. (NMSA) (2005). This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents.Moorabbin: Hawker Brownlow. (Originally published by National Middle School Association)
  • “Turning Points is a national design for middle school change coordinated by the Centre for Collaborative Education in Boston…The design focuses on restructuring middle schools to improve learning, teaching and assessment for all students. It is based on the seminal Turning Pointsreport issued by the Carnegie Corporation in 1989, which concentrates on the considerable risks that young adolescents face as they reach the ‘turning point’ between childhood and adulthood.” (Turning Points, 2002:vii) The project provides a series of guides for teachers who are working with middle school students.

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