It’s unusual – although not unheard of – for a child to stay at one school for their entire education, and as a result there are some very clear, tried and tested routes to changing school. Reception, Prep School (Year 4), 11+ (Year 7), 13+ (Year 9) and Sixth Form (Year 12) are the standard entry points, with certain year groups the main gateway, depending on the age at which the school starts. Outside of these key year groups, it can be a trickier process to undertake.
And yet, according to a recent RSA report, 300,000 pupils move schools at non-standard times every year. To put it another way, for every ten children about to move from primary to secondary school over the year ahead, another six will change schools. In a recent ADDitude* survey of 934 caregivers dealing with ADHD and other learning disabilities, about 85% of parents said they had considered changing their child’s school, and 52% had actually made the move to a new school. Key reasons include unresolved bullying, dissatisfaction with the school, or a change in financial circumstances.
What if you need to change?
Like all well-planned journeys, sometimes we need to reroute. But how do you know when to take action? First, consider what might be valid reasons for moving your child. Grace McCahery from The White House Prep School has welcomed children who have been “bruised” from past experiences. The most important aspect is to understand what is making them unhappy – a knee-jerk reaction to move is not always wise. Children may be unhappy for many reasons at school, such as changing friendship groups, or finding the work too hard, and sometimes these can be worked out with a constructive conversation with teachers and a well-executed action plan. But unfortunately, this is not always the case.
McCahery’s main observations as to why parents end up moving include: “If you feel your concerns are consistently ignored or not dealt with by the school and your conversations with teachers and the head have not brought about any change, it might be time to look elsewhere. If you feel your child is part of the ‘forgotten middle’ and not receiving the stretch or attention they need. If they are becoming demoralised by life at school and not being chosen for anything, for example, sports, plays and musical performances.”
Understanding occasional places
Many schools do have occasional places, especially in London where families are more likely to leave an area to move out of town, so there is the chance to move outside of the traditional entry points and children will be assessed appropriately. “Occasional places are offered subject to availability and assessments can be conducted throughout the year. These are designed to consider a pupil’s potential as well as his achievements and progress to date,” says Samantha Feilding, Head of Admissions, Eaton House Schools. It’s worth noting, many schools will take a child at any point in the school year, not just in September, so if your child is very unhappy, you needn’t wait until the end of the academic year.
In order to prepare for a change, start by familiarising your child with the school through an open day. In addition, they will often be invited to attend a ‘settling in’ day, where they can make new friends, and you may even plan some playdates in the holiday before they start so there are some familiar faces around on that nerve-racking first day. “It is important to be realistic about the amount of physical, emotional, intellectual and often spiritual energy required to move from one school to another, and to understand that the vast majority of ‘bumps in the road’ are completely natural and normal,” advises Oliver Snowball, outgoing Head of Eaton House The Manor Girls’ School.
Victoria Davies Jones, Head of Admissions, DLD College London, often finds that young people are very adaptable, and it is the parents who are full of anxiety (especially those with younger children). “If this is communicated to the child it can make it much harder to settle. It is important that parents don’t give mixed messages: the young person needs to feel that everyone at home supports his or her move. School and home should work together as a team.’’
The challenge of moving at secondary
Entry at the start of Year 10 as GCSE groups settle into their new courses and meet new teachers is a time during which students embark on a new learning journey in many areas, and changing schools is less disruptive than it may initially seem, believes Jamie Whiteside, Deputy Head at Portland Place School. “Classes, syllabuses and timetables at this point are new for all, making it a fresh start for many despite familiarity of surroundings.”
Finding a school that would be willing to take on a pupil mid-GCSE or mid-A-level is a far greater challenge – “pupil progress can be significantly impacted by inconsistency in these critical years,” warns William Forse, Assistant Head (Admissions and Marketing) at King’s College School Wimbledon. If unavoidable, be sure to know exactly which board is being taught and how far the new school has progressed. “Make sure you are organised with electronic learning tools and know your way around the learning platform of the school,” says Jamie Whiteside. “Many institutions will have shared all the relevant content but may rely on you to know how to access it already.’’ As well as having to put in a considerable amount of extra work to keep up, students also face the added pressure of being one of the only new faces in the class and will have to settle into a cohort which may already have an established friendship group, as well as having to learn a whole new set of routines.
Like a carefully written birth plan, your child’s education may not always go the way you initially thought it would. Take a deep breath and know that the chances are the outcome will be just as good – it may just take a different path to what you first imagined.
*A comprehensive website for parents, adults, and professionals dealing with ADHD, learning disabilities, and related conditions