Karen Lomas
September 10, 2019

Why is year 9 such a difficult school year?

I read in The Age, on 29th august, that “Year 9 is (the) toughest time for students.” It’s being reported elsewhere too and is a discussion topic among teaching staff.

So why is year 9 such as difficult school year and is there a light on the horizon?

Many parents wonder why their child is lacking motivation and direction in year 9. I know I did as the mother of two girls who have passed through that age-stage.

So, I was interested to learn from my daughters’ schools that they try to deal with this by organising outings and excursions to mix things up a bit. My eldest daughter went on a big trek in the mountains and my youngest volunteered in a hill village in Vietnam. Both of these amazing experiences were potentially life-changing because it taught them both about their capacity to be resilient, among other things.

Parents often wonder at the point of these activities – educators know something that parents may not be prepared for and so might make them go into the city and have them navigate the public transport system for half the day, so as to help a 14 year old to see what’s around them; how to operate new technology; contend with traffic and intense noises and stimulations.

The explanation I was given around  why year 9 is such a difficult year for children was that in year 9 a child is not only growing super fast and navigating puberty, but they are also no longer the excited new year 7, nor are they at the top of the school. Nowhere near ‘ruling the school’, as the graduating year of Rydell High, of “Grease” fame would have it. The end seems to be nowhere in sight, so there are seemingly years and years more homework; years more NAPLAN tests, study and exams.

Despite the best efforts of educators, according to Adam Carey, the author of the article in The Age on 29th August:

Year 9 students in Victorian government schools miss more days of classes and feel less safe and less connected than those in any other year level.

This is apparently now reflected in those NAPLAN test results, with some academic outcomes going backwards. Parents might be rightfully worried to hear this.

Another area of concern is the perception on the part of students that their schools do not handle the issue of bullying effectively. Year 9s also feel that there is a lack of respect for diversity.

All of these issues for year 9s are concerning and what is also notable is that “teachers warn that they are overwhelmed by mental health problems in schools”. This was also quoted in The Age newspaper, this time in an article by Adam Carey, on 25th august. So here, it isn’t just year 9s having difficulties, but GPs are reporting a growing range of complex emotional problems, such as stress and self-harm in many children and young adults.

So what might I say to you as a parent of a year 9 student, to help you to feel supported at this time?

I am a careers consultant working on behalf of the Victorian State Government and the Career Education Association of Victoria (CEAV), on an amazing new initiative that appears to be doing some good for many year 9s. Indeed, year 9s are reporting that they are enjoying and finding value in this careers program. So how does career coaching help?

Career coaching for year 9s might seem a bit early. How can a year 9 student possibly be wanting to talk to someone about their adult life, when it’s a while away? Here’s the thing, once they’re 14 years and 9 months old, they are legally able to work. A part-time job at the local ice-creamery, or cafe, or at the supermarket brings them some:

  • autonomy,
  • cash,
  • independence,
  • self-worth,
  • community,
  • and the accumulation of core and transferable skills.

My girls both washed pots, used cash registers, mopped floors, vacuumed carpets, sorted clothing, served coffees, ice cream, fed pets, walked dogs, babysat toddlers. They got to know that some bosses are a bit tougher than others. Some bosses train you well and some don’t train you at all. Some bosses pay you on time. Some forget to pay you at all.

If your child doesn’t have those experiences they can end up being bored at the weekend and missing out on some fun life experiences. They wont get to know what it’s like to be working in a veterinary practice, a hair salon, or in a retail store. Knowing what they like doing and what they don’t like doing is a good thing.

So in year 9 career consultants are working through a careers assessment with each student and helping them to understand their relative strengths, or aptitudes. This serves as a huge motivator, to know that if they are good with people there are jobs to match that skill. If they’re good with patterns, and in hands-on tasks, there are careers that would be great for them and fun too.

I am optimistic that this program for year 9s in Victorian State schools is already giving many years 9s some hope. They are smiling and thanking us. One colleague of mind received a hearty hug quite recently! It was a beautiful moment and I’m sure there have been others just as special. Even the year 9 lad who rushed off yesterday because lunch beckoned, looked at his report, smiled at me and said, “OK, thanks!” Maybe it won’t be such a difficult year for him now that he’s got some study and career suggestions up his sleeve.

Contact me to find out more about career assessments and well-being interventions for students young adults, by emailing [email protected]



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