Changing School: Implications & Considerations

The arrival of Covid-19 has made an enormous difference to the way that we live, and may continue to live for some time to come. If you are a parent considering a change of school for your child, we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com want to provide you with the tools to enable you to make your way through this process.
Changing School: Implications & Considerations
By Lyn Soppelsa
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There may well be multiple reasons why you are considering a change of school. Perhaps your circumstances have changed, and a change of school is a financial necessity. Perhaps you feel that your current school has not been as supportive as you would have expected. Perhaps you feel distance learning has not worked as well as you might have hoped. Perhaps you are relocating and need to find a more convenient option. The reasons may well be varied, and even be the result of a mixture of these.

Under any circumstances, a decision to move school is a tricky one. This is not a small change. Your child has probably already settled into his or her current school, has made friends, got involved in extra-curricular activities, found teachers he or she likes and relates to, and is hopefully doing well academically.

You will almost certainly want any change to be for the right reasons, and to support your child through the process. Even the most outgoing and confident child may find the decision to move school a tough one. If your child is unhappy for any reason, it may seem to be a simpler decision – but ultimately, in both cases, it is a step into the unknown.

Based on feedback that we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com have received, the key factors currently that seem to be driving parents to consider a change of school in the current climate are largely two-fold.

Firstly, the move to distance learning has proven to be a huge challenge for parents, children, schools and their staff. And this dramatic change in teaching practice is not something that the vast majority of schools had foreseen or fully prepared for. Two weeks (the Spring break period) is not a long time for any organisation to fundamentally change the way it works. Schools and staff, inevitably, have needed to adapt and change their normal processes – and some have done so more effectively than others.

The key questions must be whether the process of delivering distance learning at your child's current school has been strong enough or has improved sufficiently since it started.  Has the school listened and responded to parental concerns? Has your child adapted to the new normal? Is your child being challenged and receiving support from his or her teachers? Is s/he learning and improving his/her skills and knowledge within the boundaries of the home environment? Given that the possibility of distance learning may be a greater or smaller element of teaching after the summer holidays, are you satisfied that your child will continue to develop academically if s/he has to return to this form of education in September?

If the answer is no to the questions that your school can directly influence, then the decision to move schools may well be the right one for you and your child.

Do, though, bear in mind that the UAE Ministry of Education, together with the ADEK, the KHDA and SPEA have just introduced an inspection process specifically designed to help school improve. It will determine how advanced both public and private schools are in respect of Distance Learning. Schools will be rated as providing Distance Learning provision that is either Developed, Partly Developed or Not Developed. It is not known at this stage whether the results of the inspections will be shared with parents before the summer vacation, although they will be fed back to schools directly.

Before making the decision to change school, it may be as well to consider why you chose the current school in the first place. What did you like about it, what made it special compared with others you may have visited or researched. What are the activities or subjects that make your child happy where s/he is now? Has the school measured up to your and your child’s expectations? We suggest you create a priority list, and decide which of the items on this list are must have’s and which are desirable. 

If your reasons for considering a change of school are driven by the financial situation or a feeling of lack of support rather than your school’s performance, the key for you will be to ensure that any school you consider is able to deliver the standard of education and support that your child needs, at a price-point that you can afford.

In some ways this should be a simpler thought process – you know what the current school does well, and the challenge is to replicate this in a more budget-friendly or supportive environment. Realistically though, you may well not find everything you would like, so again, it is question of priorities.

Regulatory requirements

Before you decide that a change of school is what is needed, you also need to make yourself aware of the regulatory requirements.

If your child is already in school in the UAE, you will need a transfer certificate to be issued for children in Grade 1/Year 2 and above. Whether you are moving school within the same emirate or between emirates, your current school is responsible for processing this, together with the local education regulator. Your current school is entitled to receive payment of any outstanding fees, and to receive back books on loan and any other resources that belong to the school (such as iPads etc.).

Your school is also entitled to one term’s notice of withdrawal for which fees are payable. This is often an area for negotiation, particularly if you have paid a re-registration fee, but before making the decision to change schools, do ensure that you confirm the terms under which your child will be released from the current school contract and that their transfer certificate will be issued.

Once you have confirmed this process and know that a change of school is possible, what should you do next?

Under normal circumstances, our advice would be make a short-list of schools whose curriculum, location, fees and other key criteria meet your requirements. Of course, there are many other factors too – school size, teacher background, class sizes, extra-curricular activities and facilities are just a few of these. We advise parents to read the reviews on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, take into account comments from the Parent surveys that we publish, and read in detail the results of school inspections.

Once you have made that short-list, we always recommend that parents visit schools to get a genuine sense of how they operate on a day to day basis. But how do parents manage what we believe to be a vital next step, when schools are closed? How can you make that all-important decision about which school is right for your child if you can’t visit the campus? Answer, take a virtual school tour. The WhichSchoolAdvisor team has created a series of questions to help you with your research and to support your decision-making.

Virtual tours

In these unprecedented times, many schools are using virtual tours to offer families the next best thing. There are 360-degree tours where you can ‘tour’ facilities such as the sports hall, library, playing fields, science labs and auditorium. Many schools had these on their website already and, while they can offer an immersive experience of a campus, there can be technical glitches and delays - and of course, you only get to see what schools want you to.

Many schools have also launched one to one video meetings with Admissions staff and Principals, Zoom information sessions and webinars, and online assessments to help manage the application and admissions process.

There are actually some pros to virtual tours. They allow you to include all your family members in the decision-making process from the comfort of your living room. But there are obviously cons too. It can feel a bit impersonal and lacks the same experience as an in-person tour; you won’t be able to see if children seem happy and engaged in lessons, or personable and presentable, and you may not be able to tell on a virtual tour just how well maintained a campus is.

But once you have selected the schools that seem to match your requirements, we suggest you reach out and ask the Admissions team some of the key questions.

  • Can I have a one-to-one meeting with the principal?
  • How can my child be assessed online while the campus is closed?
  • How does the school support new students when they join the school? Is there a buddy system or similar?
  • If my child joins while the school is still temporarily closed, how will you manage his/her first day/week at school?
  • If visiting a primary school, where do students continue their secondary schooling?
  • How are you currently delivering distance learning? Does this include live class sessions, work sheets and tasks or a mixture of the two and in what proportion?
  • Are you offering any fee discounts, scholarships or financial support?

Curriculum and academics

  • How does your school’s delivery of the curriculum differ from others following the same one?
  • How does the school encourage and monitor students' progress?
  • Does the school publish its exam results?
  • How is technology used to support teaching and learning at the school?
  • How do the arts fit into the curriculum? Is there a school choir, band or orchestra? A school production? Art classes?
  • How does the school support students who have academic, social or emotional difficulties? Does the school have a well-staffed learning support department?
  • What is the school’s homework policy?
  • What extra-curricular activities are available? Can students play competitive sports against other schools?

Staff and students

  • How many students attend the school?
  • How many students are there in each year group/grade?
  • How many children are in each class?
  • How many different nationalities of children?
  • What are the nationalities of your staff?
  • How do you recruit your staff?
  • What is your staff retention rate?

School community

  • What is the school's approach to children’s behaviour and safety?
  • Is there an active Parent Association?
  • How does the school keep parents informed of news and information regarding the school's staff?
  • Where do most of the students live?

Facilities

  • Is the school well maintained? [Schools can sometimes mask their shortfalls behind state-of-the-art facilities and a contemporary building design. You should always be looking for a tidy, clean and well-maintained school that focuses its efforts and its funds on the education of the pupils rather than the latest gadgets or modern interior design].
  • What outdoor facilities are available for learning and play?
  • What specialist facilities does the school have – IT, science and arts facilities, sports facilities – any others that are important to you or your child (robotics, STEM etc.)?

School day

  • What are the school start and finish times, breaks, and academic calendar?
  • Does the school offer hot/cold meals, or do students need to bring a packed lunch?
  • Is it a large campus? If so, are the breaks and lunch staggered? Are the younger and older students separated from each other?

Location

  • How do children travel to school?
  • Is there a bus service?
  • Is there adequate parking?
  • How are pick up and drop off times managed?

This list is not exhaustive, and will not address every parent's individual priorities, but we hope it will serve as a starting point to enable you to tailor your own list of key questions.

There may well be other questions that are specific to you and your child. Do not hesitate to ask. Any school should be open and honest with potential parents so that each knows what is being committed to from the outset. If you cannot get specific answers to specific questions, think twice about whether this school is the right one for you.

Finally, do bear in mind the impact of this decision on your child. Unless your child is unhappy at the current school, it is likely that they will be resistant to the idea of change – particularly if this means losing their friends, familiar surroundings and routines. Ultimately, you as a parent must decide what is right (for whatever reasons) and take the steps you feel are necessary. 

Bear in mind too, that just because a student is older, this does not necessarily mean that a change of school will be easy for him or her to bear, even if you can explain your reasons more easily and maintaining friendships may be less of a challenge. For students in their final four years of schooling, there may be profound implications in terms of curriculum, subject and Exam Board changes – something parents will need to investigate thoroughly.

However, if you have thought through your reasons thoroughly, considered the pros and cons and still believe that the change is the right way to go, we would like to reassure you by providing you with the experience of one of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's team.

“We decided to move our oldest son from one school to another in Dubai when he was 7 years old. There were a couple of reasons for this. First of all, during his time at the first school there had been a large number of leadership changes. As an ex- teacher I was concerned about what this meant for the stability and function of the school 'behind the scenes'. Secondly, we felt that the small school environment had worked well for his early years education but was limiting his opportunities in things like competitive sport as he got older. We toured several schools and found one we liked and that we felt addressed the issues we faced at the first school. It was a tough and emotional decision that we spent a long time discussing and wondering whether we were doing the right thing, but we went ahead and registered him.
We hadn't made a plan as to how or when to tell our son, but when one day a discussion about changing schools naturally arose, we took the opportunity. He had been very happy in the original school and was desperately upset (much more so than we had expected, in fact). I remember that he went and sat, crying, under the kitchen table for a long time after! All he would say was "I like my school" over and over. We felt terrible. After that, we had about four months until the transition actually happened and he would intermittently forget about it then remember and get very upset. Shopping for the new uniform was traumatic!
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we are now really happy with the decision we made and, even better, now he is older, he also thinks it was the right thing to do too. He is thriving in the new school. We have fond memories of the old school and I'm glad to say that since we left it has found new stability in a terrific new Principal. That said, we are still glad we made the decision we did. I would say to any parents thinking of changing their child's school that it was a challenging decision and a very challenging transition. I would advise that they should think long and hard about the emotional impact on their child before 'jumping ship'. It's not something I would like to do again!”

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