Advice for parents: Changing schools during secondary years

changing-school-during-secondary-years
Changing schools during secondary years isn't easy, but we've been talking to some of the top international schools in Singapore about how to make it easier...

Sometimes, no matter how many sleepless nights and endless weeks you’ve spent researching international schools in Singapore, despite all best efforts, your school of choice doesn’t end up being the fit you thought it would be. It’s upsetting for all, but with so many amazing schools to choose from here, finding one that DOES fit is a logical next step… But what happens if your kids are a little older and are facing secondary school and high school exams? Is it still a good idea to move them, or is it better to just try and muddle through until they’re done with their most important years? We’ve been asking several top international schools just this question, and they had plenty of wise words and great advice to share.

GEMS World Academy – Jonathan Cox, Deputy Principal of the Secondary Years (Grade 9-12)

changing schools during secondary years

Under what conditions would you advise a curriculum change during the secondary years of my child’s education?
Ideally, Secondary Years Education should be a continuous programme of attendance at the same school. However, we all know that is not always possible, nor in some cases desirable. In most cases, with a sympathetic school taking your children, moves can be managed and disruption minimised. Making the change by choice should really have the student’s best interests at heart. Here are some instances where a change may be for the best:

International Experience: We often enroll students who want to change schools so that they can enter an international curriculum. Ideally, this change should be made at the beginning of Grade 9 or Grade 11, as these are the natural transition points. The key caveat here is that the student must be well equipped to cope in their new curriculum.

Change of Focus: I have in the past recommended students to make a strategic move to a more focussed/specialised curriculum (like A Levels, for example). This only happens when a student is very strong in some subjects and relatively weak in others AND they have an ambition to study at a highly competitive university.

National Curriculum: Some families will make the decision to move because they know that they will be returning to their home country and their local education system has particular requirements that a foreign system does not meet.

Opportunity Knocks: There is an increasing range of options available in the education market nowadays. At GEMS World Academy in Singapore, for example, we have recently introduced the IB Career-related Programme (IBCP) in partnership with Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Such programmes offer students, gifted in a particular area the chance to move well ahead of their peers.

Is there a stage during a child’s education where you would advise NOT to switch schools or curriculums unless absolutely necessary?

Yes, absolutely. I would strongly advise against moving students between the final years of school. Students moving at this stage almost always suffer a significant drop in grades. Again, if such a move is unavoidable, then the key is to find a new school which is willing to be as flexible as possible and to give high levels of assistance. As students get older, the social and emotional impact of moving usually weighs heavier as well, so it is important to ensure that there are proper support systems in place, should they be required.

If my child is changing school and/or curriculums, how can the new school help make the transition easier, and what can we do as parents to assist?

My advice is to look for a school where accommodating the needs of the student takes precedence over the student meeting the requirements of the school. Schools should have something like a Buddy System in place, so that new students have a designated student to show them the ropes in the early days. There should also be a Counsellor available for students.

As parents, the best thing we can do is be realistic in our expectations (many students grades drop for a while after moving) and to offer support in any way we can. This should involve gaining some familiarity with the curriculum, so that you know what your child and their teachers are talking about. It doesn’t mean that you have to become education experts though – that’s what the school is for.

A message that I give to all of our incoming families is that communication is absolutely key. There are three parties – the school, the parents and the student – among whom the student is the only really important one.

Dover Court – Mr Craig Bull, Head of Secondary

changing-schools-during-secondary-years

Under what conditions would you advise a curriculum change during the secondary years of my child’s education?

There is never a perfect time to change your child’s education. Years 7, 8 and 9 are the foundation years towards GCSE in most schools and naturally, it is extremely important to ensure students have a settled and consistent approach to their GCSE exams. Some schools including Dover Court now start GCSEs in Year 9 due to the new GCSE content and assessment.

Is there a stage during a child’s education where you would advise NOT to switch schools or curriculums unless absolutely necessary?

We understand that sometimes this is unavoidable and we will work with any student who has changed schools or curriculums to ensure the transition is smooth and they are successful. This can be more difficult during the latter years of Secondary or Sixth Form mainly due to the differences in subjects and exam boards from one school to the next. Therefore, moving in the earlier years of Secondary School is probably better.

If my child is changing school and/or curriculums, how can the new school help make the transition easier, and what can we do as parents to assist?

As a parent, we would suggest ensuring that the school offers a similar suite of subjects to your child’s previous school and enquiring as to which exam boards or curriculum your child was studying previously. It would definitely make the transition easier if the content and assessment process is the same. Geography in one school could be completely different to Geography in another, for example. Due to option blocks and class sizes, some subjects may be full and this may limit your options so it’s well worth checking this in advance. In addition, maybe ask your child’s current school for a breakdown of what has been covered in each subject to date so you are able to pass this on to the new school.

We would also suggest talking to your child about the move sooner rather than later. It is really important to the success at the new school that the student is aware of the move and the reasons why so they are able to plan and be ready for the move.

Schools are used to in year admissions and are well set up to support both the students and parents but the aforementioned information will definitely help this process.

Nexus International School Singapore – Peter Hart, Head of Secondary

changing schools during secondary years

Under what conditions would you advise a curriculum change during the secondary years of my child’s education?

As children in Secondary begin to discover themselves they also begin to carve out their future. Changing curriculum should be to enhance what they want to do. For example an IB Diploma may not be the best route into Graphic Design but it can help your entrance to a leading design university like Arts University of Bristol. Likewise, if they wish to go to a leading Rhode Island School of Design they should consider a curriculum that is recognised in the US.

If your child is unsure then suggest a broader curriculum like the IB DP option so that as they discover what they want to be, they have more options available to them.

Is there a stage during a child’s education where you would advise NOT to switch schools or curriculums unless absolutely necessary?

It is advisable to avoid switching halfway through a two year course like IBDP or IG. It is difficult to match subjects at a new school. Coursework, records and tutor notes may not be easily available for the transfer. It is easier to change curriculums under the age of 15 as it is before big examinations and children are able to adapt and fill in any missing gaps they may have.

Before changing schools do think about how this will impact your child. Children develop strong social ties with friends and teachers, especially if they have been there a long time. However, if they tend to hang out more on a solo basis or have expressed a wish to change schools there may be underlying issues at school.

If my child is changing school and/or curriculums, how can the new school help make the transition easier, and what can we do as parents to assist?

Obtaining reports, records, coursework and personal information is key to a smooth transition. At Nexus International School Singapore we need this information to fully understand and assess the child’s needs and to ensure that all teachers and tutors are well informed. The child will be interviewed and a baseline understanding will shape what support or extension is needed within the school. A buddy system will be put in place to help the child build social structure. The homeroom teacher will spend more time with the child and will produce a settling in report after a few weeks.

Initially, parents should help with the home learning. Be supportive and show interest, discuss teachers, friends, passions and encourage joining a sports team or CCA.

Tanglin Trust School – Mr Andy Goodliffe, Assistant Headteacher, Head of Sixth Form

Learning support TANGLIN

Under what conditions would you advise a curriculum change during the secondary years of my child’s education?

At Tanglin, we have the benefit of a dual pathway that allows all our Sixth Form students a programme that is tailored both to the subjects they are passionate about and to the style of learning that most suits them. Students flourish because of the good ‘fit’ they have with their programme. For this reason, I would encourage everyone to consider finding a programme, A Levels, IB Diploma or another alternative, that suits them best to provide access to Higher Education and would advocate a curriculum change on these grounds.

Is there a stage during a child’s education where you would advise NOT to switch schools or curriculums unless absolutely necessary?

We do not accept students more than one term into the two-year examination cycles (January of Year 12 is our last entry point). This is done entirely for the benefit of the students. One term on a three-subject A Level programme involves 225 hours of contact time and asking them to catch up on that amount of study renders it untenable, in our eyes.

If possible, it is good to make a transition at least one year before an examination cycle begins so the initial focus can be on settling holistically, rather than having to immediately focus on settling academically. Movement during the two-year run up to an examination period may affect students’ chances of success, unless they are moving into a different system and the terminal exams no longer are relevant.

If my child is changing school and/or curriculums, how can the new school help make the transition easier, and what can we do as parents to assist?

I would encourage school visits and attending our Whole School and Sixth Form Open House Events – touring the facilities and meeting the people. Where this isn’t possible, I pick up the phone and, on occasions, have facilitated skype calls between our students and new students. Our official induction programme, with elements delivered by students, caters just as much for parents as it does for students. New students thrive and settle unbelievably quickly. The cut and thrust of a busy timetable and students and staff who are well-versed in welcoming ‘transitioners’ tends to see them not feel ‘new’ for long.

Singapore American School

changing-schools-in-secondary-years-SAS

Under what conditions would you advise a curriculum change during the secondary years of my child’s education?

To be honest there is no great time, but ideally, a switch should be made before high school. Kids are adaptable but changing curriculum too late can create gaps in learning. There is not a necessity to do an entire IB curriculum from primary through the diploma, but certainly, a transfer into IB needs to happen before grade 11. Some families find that IB can be a bit too prescriptive for their child and choose to go to an Advanced Placement (AP) school where the student can choose which classes to take at a higher level, if any.

Is there a stage during a child’s education where you would advise NOT to switch schools or curriculums unless absolutely necessary?

Again, there is no perfect time to make the switch to a new school or curricular system but when you must make a change, one big factor to consider would be the point of the school year. It is best to avoid mid-year switches. If a mid-year switch is unavoidable, it is best to align your move with the start of a term at the new school. This will give the student the best chance at a smooth transition academically and they are more likely to have a cohort of other students who come in at the same time. Having peers in a similar situation makes the transition easier.

If my child is changing school and/or curriculums, how can the new school help make the transition easier, and what can we do as parents to assist?

It is useful for the new school to provide orientation and transition activities and, if possible, a peer mentor to help new students acclimatize to their new environment and learn the school norms. Parents can help by completing all the transition documents that often include both academic and social/emotional profiles for their students. This will help the new school to ensure that they have any necessary supports in place from the beginning of the students’ time there.

Top image: GEMS World Academy

If you found this story useful, here’s more you might enjoy:

The use of technology in the classroom
IB unravelled: how it works and who it suits
Keeping cool under exam pressure
How to help your kids with homework

Find out more useful school related stories over at HoneyKids School Selector