Report card in for Year 7 switch to high schools

It’s been a colossal change for South Australian public high schools, with major building works at scores of sites and four brand new campuses to prepare for the transition of Year 7 students. Near the end of Term 3 under the new regime, how is it faring?

Sep 05, 2022, updated Sep 06, 2022
A new building for Year Seven students at The Heights in Modbury Heights. Photo: SA Education Department

A new building for Year Seven students at The Heights in Modbury Heights. Photo: SA Education Department

Ben Temperly was overseeing the state-wide plan to transition Year 7s into public secondary schools and he is still amazed the state pulled it off, with every school but one opening for lessons on time.

“It’s a change in schools we haven’t seen before in education in South Australia and given that it occurred during a global pandemic and all the additional challenges thrown up, it’s remarkable that the state did so well,” the Education Department’s chief operating officer said.

An external consultant’s evaluation of the process between January and June this year, being released tomorrow, shows 88 per cent of participating school representatives report being satisfied or very satisfied with the outcome.

Temperly has all the stats. He says more than 750 new secondary school teachers have been recruited for the unprecedented number of 28,000 Year 7 and Year 8 students pouring into schools in this year’s intake.

Craigmore Secondary School is the only one forced to make contingency plans for unfinished spaces when students arrived in February, with work slowed by COVID restrictions, construction delays and storm damage to the gym.

Golden Grove High School. Pic: SA Education Department.

It was an enormous mission. Schools were not simply building a few new classrooms. There are entire new blocks with flash dance studios, gyms and significant facelifts to other buildings.

Many schools worked against the clock as they sorted bus timetables with Transport SA, installed new furniture, stationery, musical instruments and IT equipment in readiness for day one’s arrival of the new students.

“In some cases, they were still setting up classrooms the day before students arrived,” Temperly said.

There have been unexpected results. One being how schools are seeing positive changes prompted by the arrival of 160 primary school teachers now employed into the secondary system. Temperly said they bring fresh ideas in how schools teach younger students.

Another unexpected shift has been teachers seeing more active students during break times.

“Anecdoctally, the feedback is that teachers are seeing that not only Year 7s, but also Year 8s and sometimes Year 9s are more active in the playground at recess and lunch times,” Temperly said.

“Possibly they may not have previously seen this as cool – the younger students changed the dynamic.”

Education Minister Blair Boyer is experiencing another impact from the new build program; a diary stacked with official openings, some delayed by COVID restrictions and others by schools finding time to plan events while still introducing curriculums.

The openings of the Year 7-related builds also coincided with the completion of other projects through earlier Building Better Schools funding, with Boyer last week inspecting a $5 million performing arts centre at Para Hills High School.

Wirreanda Secondary School. Pic: SA Education Department.

A new gym at The Heights School opened earlier this month, along with the $10 million upgrade of Gawler and District College with its dance areas, performance stage, physical education office and new special education building.

The Heights gym. Pic: SA Education Department.

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Completely new schools have opened: Whyalla Secondary School, Riverbank Secondary College at Angle Vale, Goolwa High School and Aldinga Payinthi College.

Temperly has visited many sites too, but it’s the builds at both the Norwood and Blackwood high schools that most stick in his mind.

He remembers visiting Norwood International High School when construction work on its $53.1 million redevelopment was happening, and feeling amazed how teachers and students continued on with their studies.

The school now has a new three-storey middle school building with a rooftop play space, two-storey innovation hub, ‘ergo’ shed for PE and rowing, a new facade, landscaping, car parking and sports courts.

“And from a personal perspective I attended Blackwood High School and was fortunate enough to be at its official opening and to see the quality of the new build,” Temperly said.

At the South Australian Secondary Principals’​ Association, chief executive Jayne Heath said there was much talk of the Year 7 transition at a recent conference with about 230 school leaders.

“It was not without its hitches,” she said, referring in particular to the intrusion of COVID restrictions on students and teachers.

“But this was something schools were very well prepared for, I think they worked their butts off to make sure there was a spot for all kids to get into … and I’ve seen some of those spaces and they are beautiful and well designed.”

Australian Education Union state president Andrew Gohl said there were a few hiccups working around on-site construction and additional workload, but teachers and principals had put in the planning hours to achieve positive results.

“And this was a much-needed shot in the arm for public education in South Australia and we would hope the investment continues,” Gohl said, adding that schools were still not receiving resources recommended in the Gonski Report.

“I think the fact that it succeeded despite COVID washing through the state at the same time is a remarkable testament to the work of the education community.”

For former Education Minister John Gardner, it has been satisfying seeing students making the transition to high school, it was the previous Liberal State Government that was responsible for making it happen.

“Earlier this year (when Gardner was still Education Minister) the successful integration of Year 7s into new learning environments was the brightest patch in a complicated and challenging beginning to 2022,” he said.

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