School and system improvement

Publication Date



This paper is drawn from a more extensive review of the literature commissioned by the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2007, viz: Dinham, S. & Rowe, K. (2007). Teaching and Learning in Middle Schooling A review of the literature - A Report to the New Zealand Ministry of Education. Camberwell: ACER. The permission of the New Zealand Ministry of Education to publish this extract from the review is gratefully acknowledged.


This paper provides a critical review of the literature that has attempted to identify ‘best practice’ in middle schooling.. It is noted that despite the large and burgeoning literature claiming positive effects of approaches to middle schooling that focus on the cognitive, developmental, social and emotional needs of adolescents, evidence to substantiate the claims remain elusive. Rather, it is suggested that emphasis is best directed at building evidence-based pedagogical capacity in school’s most valuable resources – teachers. Further, it is argued that whereas prevailing adherence to the moribund philosophies of biological and social determinism are foremost among several ‘barriers’ to reform, they are not justified by findings from evidence-based research. So what matters most in the middle years? – the imperative of quality teaching and learning provision, supported by teaching standards and ongoing teacher professional learning focused on evidence-based teaching practices that are demonstrably effective in maximising students’ engagement, learning outcomes and achievement progress.