Three-tier education

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Gosforth East Middle School, a middle school in Gosforth, Newcastle Gosforth East Middle.jpg
Gosforth East Middle School, a middle school in Gosforth, Newcastle

Three-tier education refers to those structures of schooling, which exist in some parts of England, where pupils are taught in three distinct school types as they progress through the education system.



In a three-tier local education authority children begin their compulsory education in a first school [1] or lower school, [2] which caters for children up to the age of 8 or 9. [3] Children then transfer to a middle school, which caters for children from age 9 to age 13 or 14. [3] Following this, children transfer for the remainder of their compulsory education to an upper school [4] or high school, sometimes on into the sixth form. [5]

Diagram of paths through the school system in England. The three-tier systems are in blue and mauve. School Stuctures.png
Diagram of paths through the school system in England. The three-tier systems are in blue and mauve.


References to middle schools in publications of the UK Government date back to 1856, and the educational reports of William Henry Hadow mention the concept. [6] It was not until 1963 that a local authority, the West Riding of Yorkshire, first proposed to introduce a middle-school system, with schools spanning ages 5–9, 9–13 and 13–18; [7] one source suggests that the system was "introduced" in that year. [3] Local education authorities were permitted to introduce middle schools by the Education Act 1964, [8] subsequently, the notion of three-tier education was mooted by the Plowden Report of 1967—this proposed the introduction of first schools and middle schools, which would replace the existing system of infant and junior schools, as well as the first part of secondary schooling. [9] The Plowden Report recommended that middle schools span ages 8 to 12. [7] [6]

The first middle school in England was introduced in 1968, in the Hemsworth division of the West Riding of Yorkshire. [7] The first authority-wide systems of middle schools were introduced in 1970, in Stoke-on-Trent and Southampton. [10] Numbers rapidly grew, with over a thousand opening in the decade from the first introduction. [7] Sources suggest reasons for the introduction of the three-tier system in local authority areas included capacity problems, as a result of both the raising of the school leaving age to 16 from 15 (which took place in 1972), [8] and the introduction of comprehensive education, with the schools themselves bypassing the traditional Eleven-plus exam which determined which secondary school pupils would attend. [3]

The number of middle schools peaked in 1982, when over 1400 middle schools were open; [7] by 2017, only 121 remained, [2] and by 2019 the National Middle Schools' Forum recorded 107 in its directory, in 14 local authority areas. [11] In 2006, it was reported that Central Bedfordshire, Northumberland and the Isle of Wight were the only LEAs still exclusively using the three-tier system. [12]

Multiple reasons have been suggested by sources for this reversion to a two-tier system, including: a lack of clear identity, with the Department for Education and Science labelling them as either primary or secondary; [7] a lack of teachers trained to teach in middle schools; [13] and increased autonomy being given to schools, with upper and lower schools choosing to expand their age ranges. [2] The introduction of the National Curriculum has also been cited, as the middle school system led to children changing schools partway through one of its Key Stages; the National Curriculum was cited by David Ward, then the councillor in Bradford responsible for education, as a reason for abolishing the system there, [14] and local authority officials in Wiltshire, when closing the remaining middle schools in 2002, argued specifically that the mid-Key-Stage school change caused children to be disadvantaged. [15] In addition, in Northumberland it was reported that closing its middle schools could allow the buildings to be sold to raise money for repairs to the remainder of the council's school estate. [14]

The Inter-LEA Middle Schools Forum was founded in 1991, later changing its name to the National Middle Schools' Forum; [10] it describes itself as "the voice of the middle school community". [16]

In 2016, Nigel Huddleston raised the topic of three-tier education in Parliament; the schools minister, Nick Gibb, noted that the Government had no plans to abolish the three-tier system in the areas that retained it. [17]

Similar systems

In Scotland, middle schools were operated in Grangemouth from 1974 to 1988, the system having been proposed in 1968. [18]

In the independent sector, some prep schools take pupils up to age 13. [19] In addition, some private secondary schools admit pupils at 13, including some of those using the Common Entrance exam [20] and some public schools. [21]

Gibraltar's education system has a system of first, middle and secondary schools. [22] [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

A middle school is an educational stage which exists in some countries, providing education between primary school and secondary school. The concept, regulation and classification of middle schools, as well as the ages covered, vary between, and sometimes within, countries.

Education in England is overseen by the United Kingdom's Department for Education. Local government authorities are responsible for implementing policy for public education and state-funded schools at a local level.

The Tripartite System was the arrangement of state-funded secondary education between 1945 and the 1970s in England and Wales, and from 1947 to 2009 in Northern Ireland. It was an administrative implementation of the Education Act 1944 and the Education Act 1947.

Education in Scotland is overseen by the Scottish Government and has a history of universal provision of public education, and the Scottish education system is distinctly different from those in the other countries of the United Kingdom. The Scotland Act 1998 gives the Scottish Parliament legislative control over all education matters, and the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 is the principal legislation governing education in Scotland. Traditionally, the Scottish system at secondary school level has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects, while the English, Welsh and Northern Irish systems have emphasised greater depth of education over a smaller range of subjects.

State schools, or public schools are generally primary or secondary schools which are mandated to offer education to all children without charge, and they are funded in whole or in part by taxation.

A comprehensive school is a public school for elementary aged or secondary aged children that does not select its intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude, in contrast to the selective school system where admission is restricted on the basis of selection criteria. The term is commonly used in relation to England and Wales, where comprehensive schools were introduced as state schools on an experimental basis in the 1940s and became more widespread from 1965. With the Blair educational reforms from 2003, they may be part of a local education authority or be a self governing academy or part of a multi-academy trust.

Upper schools in the UK are usually schools within secondary education. Outside England, the term normally refers to a section of a larger school.

Education on the Isle of Wight is provided by local education authority-maintained schools on the Isle of Wight, and independent schools. As a rural community, many of these schools are small, with average numbers of pupils lower than in many urban areas. It was decided on 19 March 2008, in a Whole Council Meeting, that the three-tier system would change into a two tier system. A report into the report on the re-organisation with proposals as to which schools would close was published in May 2008. There is also a college on the Isle of Wight and other less formal educational venues.

The Plowden Report is the unofficial name for the 1967 report of the Central Advisory Council For Education (England) into Primary education in England. The report, entitled Children and their Primary Schools, reviewed primary education in a wholesale fashion. The collation of the report took around 3 years. The Council was chaired by Bridget, Lady Plowden after whom the report is named.

Ashton Middle School was a middle school in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, England, under the Central Bedfordshire Local Education Authority.

Abbotsgrange Middle School and Moray Middle School were schools that operated in Grangemouth, Scotland, between 1974 and 1988. They were the only two middle schools in the whole of Scotland and Grangemouth remains the only area of Scotland where experimentation in three-tier education was ever tried. Grangemouth is in the historic county of Stirlingshire in central Scotland and, following local government reorganisation in 1975, became part of the Falkirk District of the Central Region.

Goldington Academy Academy in Bedford, Bedfordshire, England

Goldington Academy is a mixed secondary school located in the Goldington/Putnoe area of Bedford, Bedfordshire, England.

Bedford Academy is a mixed secondary school and sixth form located in the Kingsbrook area of Bedford, Bedfordshire, England.

Education in Gibraltar

Education in Gibraltar generally follows the English system operating within a three tier system. Schools in Gibraltar follow the Key Stage system which teaches the National Curriculum.

The history of education in England is documented from Saxon settlement of England, and the setting up of the first cathedral schools in 597 and 604.

Fairlands Middle School Academy in Cheddar, Somerset, England

Fairlands Middle School is a coeducational middle school with roughly 522 pupils aged between 9 and 13 in 2012, located in Cheddar, Somerset, England. The school, which was established in 1976, is a middle-deemed-secondary school, meaning that it takes pupils of secondary school age while providing both Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 education. Fairlands is part of the Cheddar Valley Community Learning Partnership, a three-tier education system which comprises nine first schools, two middle schools and one secondary school. Pupils enter Fairlands from first schools in Cheddar and the nearby villages of Draycott, Shipham and Axbridge. In year 9 pupils move to The Kings of Wessex Academy, also in Cheddar.

Alban Church of England Academy was a mixed middle school located in Great Barford, Bedfordshire, England.

The NCEA Duke's Secondary School is an 11–19 academy in Ashington, Northumberland, England. It is part of the Northumberland Church of England Trust occupying the Josephine Butler Campus of its predecessor The Northumberland Church of England Academy which was an all-through school spread out across six campuses in southeastern Northumberland.

State-funded schools (England)

English state-funded schools, commonly known as state schools, provide education to pupils between the ages of 3 and 18 without charge. Approximately 93% of English schoolchildren attend 20,000 or so such schools. Since 2008 about 75% have attained "academy status", which essentially gives them a higher budget per pupil from the Department for Education.


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