There are many reasons why your child might need to change to a new school either at the beginning or during the school year. These include moving to a new area, a desire for better staff/facilities or an issue such as bullying.
This guide is designed to give you some idea of what to expect and what your children might be feeling about what is a massive change in their lives.
Formal switching process
Once the decision to change schools has been reached, what happens next in the formal process will depend upon whether your child is in the state or private sector or changing between the two. In the state sector, you would normally need to complete a school admissions application form for the local authority for the area in which you pay your council tax, even if the school you intend your child to attend is in a different authority. You will have the option to put up to three different schools on the form and you will be prompted to contact both your child’s current school and the school which you would like them to switch to, to explain the situation.
Most private schools have their own admissions policy and you would need to contact the school or schools concerned directly to make arrangements if switching between two private schools. The biggest difference in the application process between state and private schools is that many, if not most, independent schools require their prospective pupils to sit entrance examinations and assessments as well as attendance at an interview at the school. It would be necessary for your child to prepare for these in advance.
Before your child starts at the new school
Many schools are very proactive about reaching out to new pupils before they start. Some offer the child opportunities to visit the school, meet the teachers and familiarise themselves with the school day before they officially start lessons. Others provide a ‘buddy programme’, where an existing pupil is tasked with helping the new arrival settle in.Arrangements are usually made for the ‘buddies’ to meet prior to the new pupil starting at the school. It is a good idea to take advantage of any such initiatives offered by the school.
If the school move has been precipitated by traumatic issues such as parental relationship breakdown, moving to a completely new area or bullying in the last school that your son or daughter attended, then it is a good idea to make the new school aware of the issue. The staff can then bear this in mind when helping your child settle in.If possible, you should ask if there is a specific member of staff you should contact in the event of any issues arising as your child begins to settle in.
Your child’s emotions
Once your child’s place at the new school is confirmed, they are certain to have both mixed feelings as well as questions and concerns about this new challenge. How the child feels may be influenced by the reason for the change. Did they have to go to a new school because they had moved to a different area or was it because they were unhappy at their previous school? Were they able to have a say in which school they are going to?
If they are moving to a school in a completely new area, having got on well at their previous one, they may be more upset at having to leave friends behind. Promising that they do not need to lose touch with their old friends may help your child feel better about the move. It is also worth emphasising that this is a great opportunity to make new friends.
Even if the child is not particularly upset about the move, he or she is likely to be feeling anxious as well as excited and nervous. It is important to reassure the child that these feelings are completely normal and any negative feelings are likely to pass as soon as they settle in to their new school. If you are anxious on their behalf, then try not to make them aware of it and this will usually make them feel worse. Psychotherapist,Dr Aaron Balick, advises children to talk about their feelings regarding changing schools to people they trust. In many cases, simply listening to your children talk about how they feel about switching schools may help. Alternatively, if there is a family member, such as a cousin, or even a friend, who has recently changed to a new school, giving your son or daughter the opportunity to discuss their concerns with them may allay many of their fears.
Apart from being concerned about practical issues such as being able to find their way around the building, the biggest source of anxiety amongst pupils who have switched schools, tends to be whether or not they will be able to make new friends easily. Once way you can help your child cement potential new friendships is by encouraging them to join in with extra-curricular activities. These tend to be run in smaller groups than a standard school class, so it is easier for the children to get to know each other on a one-to-one basis. Extra-curricular activities generally lack the formality a lesson in a classroom and would give your child a shared interest with their new friends. If they have been paired with a ‘buddy’ before they started at the school, the buddy should also introduce them to other children.
If your son or daughter does not make a large group of friends immediately, it does not necessarily mean that you should be concerned. Real friendships can take a while to nurture and your child should soon adapt to their surroundings and settle in to their new school.
Independent Junction: 15 Tips for Parents Switching from the State to the Independent Sector
Huffington Post: The New Kid: Advice If Your Child Is Changing Schools
BBC Learning Parents Blog: Changing school mid year
Family Lives: Changing Schools
The Guardian: Top 10 tips for students changing schools