Today’s Handy Tips and Advice comes from our very own Vicki, who also writes The Boy’s Behaviour. If you have advice or tips to share too, then please do get in touch.
I’m in no way an expert, but I’m currently looking at moving my child to a different school. There’s a host of reasons why, but I won’t bore you with those. Instead I wanted to write about the things I’ve found useful – tips given to me, questions to ask. If you have anything else to add, please do so in the comments below.
Making the right decision
If you’re thinking about changing schools, then it’s for a good reason. However, I know some people have tried to put us off moving our son, and suggested we reconsider – indeed our social worker said:
“Try to resolve the issue at your current school. Moving schools may not address the issues you’re facing, and indeed moving may create more anxiety and worry, and cause more disruption.“
We were also advised to consider the following, before we made any definite steps towards moving our son:
- Each school has it’s own way of teaching – how will your child cope with learning in new ways, with different rules?
- Children who transfer after exam subjects have been picked may find their new school doesn’t offer the same subject – bear this in mind.
- Think about how well your child will be able to settle, how quickly they make friends, and if this might impact on their ability to learn.
- Consider uniform – you might need to buy a whole new uniform – from Blazers and special PE kit right down to different colour socks. Is this manageable for you?
- Do check whether your other children will be able to move to the same school. Have you thought whether it will be a problem for you to have your children attending different schools? There is no automatic right for your other children to transfer to the new school, either now or in the future.
Talking to your child
Whether you discuss it with your child right at the very beginning, mention it casually, or keep it to yourself until you find a place elsewhere is your call. Here we decided, given our son is only 6, to mention it in casual conversation, kind of sounding him out really, but we won’t say anything else until we know we can find a suitable school for him – no point worrying him, and I don’t want him letting on to his current school what our plans are.
Speaking with admissions and choosing a school
The next step is to contact your local education authority and their admissions team specifically. Our own local authority has a form that is downloadable from their website, which we print, fill in and send off, with 3 schools named as options.
Our local authority advised us to look on their website at the list of local schools – there are hundreds, but I narrowed it down to about 8 that were either within a reasonable distance to us or seemed to have specialisms in some of our areas of difficulty. The advisors in the admissions team were happy to look up those schools to see if they had any spaces. In our case, most haven’t got any spaces in the Year we’re transferring within. But we were advised to check out the websites and prospectuses of all we’d initially picked, and base our decisions on the schools, not whether they had spaces. Sometimes, depending on how the school is governed, they can make a space available. If your child has a statement and is still considered LAC, then I was advised that the new school would have to take the child. *There’s a handy tip there…if your child is in the middle of getting a statement, wait until they have it before you try to move them, it could prove a useful tool*.
So after looking at websites, OFSTED reports and speaking to schools directly I narrowed my choices down to 4, which I’m visiting this week – only one of them has spaces, but one is governed differently and might be able to make a space.
Remember to look at a mix of large and small schools. Just because you’re experiencing issues with a large school now, doesn’t mean you should only consider small schools. Large and small schools all have their own pros and cons – big/small budgets, lots/hardly any friendship opportunities, little fish/big fish – opportunities to stand out, or get lost. Consider every aspect.
What to ask
I have a standard list of questions and they’re in part based around the things my son struggles with, but you might find them useful to adapt:
- How big is your intake/what size are your classes?
- What is the daily routine like?
- How often do you have assembly?
- What is the mix of female/male teachers?
- Have you experience of children with attachment issues?
- What is your SEN provision like?
- How often do you review your IEPs?
- Can I meet your SENCo?
- What is the school’s approach to discipline?
- Do you have a nurture group?
- How many TAs are there in each class?
- How would you manage transition from old school to here?
- How are you moving forward on your OFSTED recommendations of a,b and c?
I also explained a little about my son’s needs, and asked if they were daunted by them. And how they thought they could support him.
Going with your gut feeling
I’ve been advised that the most important thing is the feel of the school – several people have told me that I’ll know as soon as I step through the doors whether it’s right or not. Think about how you feel when you look around? Is there a good atmosphere? Do the children seem happy? Is safety evident? Are they obviously only showing you the good bits? Are the displays fresh and new? Are they interested and taking pride in the children’s work?
And if you’re allowed, see if you can ask the children questions – are they happy? Do they look forward to school each day? Do they like their teachers? Do they like the playground and it’s facilities?
Finally, try to strike up a bit of a rapport with the headteacher. Get a good relationship going before and during the application process… it’ll help in the long term.
Next steps and submitting that application
So my next step is to finish the application by adding the 3 schools (or less) that I want my son to transfer to. One of the schools advised me to add as much additional information as I possibly can, so I’m calling on our Post Adoption Social Worker to write a supporting statement, and I shall be adding a (hopefully) strong statement about why I want to move my child, and why I’ve picked the schools that I have.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to look at and things about, but I’ve tried to pull in the questions, advice and information I’ve been given, and hope you might find it useful too. The most important thing I think is to be prepared – go and visit schools knowing a bit about them, knowing the transfer and admissions process – that way you can ask the relevant questions.