Smyth, John, McInerney, Peter and Hattam, Robert (2003) Tackling school leaving at its source: A case of reform in the middle years of schooling. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24 (2). pp. 177-193. ISSN 0142-5692

One of the most pervasive educational issues confronting Australia, and other countries, at the moment is the declining completion rates in high schools. While a period of success was experienced after the Second World War, there is now a pressing need to reform high schools in the ways they connect with young lives. In this paper, we present a 'sociology of the high school' as a way of encapsulating the high school as an institution that: is still largely stuck in a 'continuity of practice' (Elmore, 1987); has an 'attachment to familiar pedagogical routines' (Eisner, 1992); fails to listen to students; is hierarchically structured; treats students in immature ways; is hung up with passing on content; and seems more concerned with insulating itself from, rather connecting with or appropriating, young lives into the curriculum. As an alternative, we examine the notion of middle schooling that requires a version of whole school reform that engages with structures, cultures and changing pedagogy in ways more resonant with, and respectful of, young lives. We examine the tensions and dilemmas experienced at Investigator [1] High School in Australia, and conclude that the centerpiece has to be breaking the mold of the 'scripted' teacher and its replacement by the 'teacher-as-improviser'.

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