The One Where Flea Changes School

changing schools in the middle of the year

Changing schools in the middle of the year was never in the plan.

But here we are.

This morning, I dropped Flea off at a new school, having left her old school on Friday.

I’m not someone who makes this kind of decision lightly. To say the least.

For starters, I hate to admit defeat.

Second, I’m horribly indecisive and slow to make changes. I tend to make a decision, then spend a few months second, third and fourth guessing it.

Can you change schools in the middle of the year?

Flea’s only been at her school for about 18 months.

For the first 9 months or so, she loved it. She threw herself into all the activities and clubs. She worked hard in lessons and started to make friends.

And then it all started to fall apart.

In some ways, Flea having such a great start made it harder to accept that things weren’t working. When things used to be great, it’s so tempting to tell yourself to try one more meeting, give it another week, another month…

But childhood has a finite span. And you can only watch your child struggle for so long before you HAVE to make a change.

Why did we change schools?

Flea started to have problems at school at the end of Year 7. She struggled badly with exam stress and did poorly in her end of year exams.

The school placed the children into sets for Year 8 and based on her exam results, Flea found herself moved down in several subjects. She’s a child who’s always done well academically so it was a big deal to find herself in Set 2, 3 and 4. As her confidence got more and more dented, her marks started to spiral.

I’ve been in and out of school for months, trying to fix things. I’ve had meetings with the form teacher, maths teacher, head of maths, two heads of lower school, and the headmaster. I met with the school matron. We hired a tutor.

The school could have installed a revolving door, I was there so often.

Despite my best efforts, Flea’s grades continued to slide. First in one subject, then two, then three. Her teachers reassured me that her marks were nothing to be alarmed about, but I know my child. If she’s getting mostly Cs, something isn’t right.

It wasn’t just about grades.

Flea had dropped all her extra-curricular activities apart from hockey. She started forgetting books. She rushed through her homework – if she remembered to do it. I think she stopped caring, really.

Flea’s school has a strong reputation for its caring, child-centred ethos. And there are a lot of truly wonderful, good-hearted teachers there.

But all schools have blind spots. And because Flea’s marks weren’t low enough to cause any red flags, the school couldn’t see how much Flea was struggling. Her marks were fine, they told me. She’s a lovely girl, they said. She just needs to try a bit harder. Join some clubs. They put her on report. She felt punished. She became even more stressed and anxious.

It had been eight months, and Flea’s interest in school was declining by the day. We went on a short break to Amsterdam, and Flea relaxed. I noticed then how long it had been since I’d seen her that relaxed. Since I’d heard her laugh so often. 

A few days later, one of Flea’s PE teachers approached me after school, to say how worried she was. How withdrawn Flea seemed. How much her personality had changed. 

And I think that was enough to decide it for me. If Flea is truly not happy, and we can’t fix that, then what am I waiting for?

How To Change Schools

The next day, we called the headteacher at Flea’s old school, and arranged a meeting with him to chat through our concerns.

We are very fortunate in that Flea was able to return to her old school, which she attended from pre-school until Year 6. She had been offered a place at the senior school there, but didn’t take it up at the time.

At this meeting, the head told Flea he’d looked up her entrance exam, and they would be happy to have her back. Actually, he told Flea she was a “high calibre student,” and my girl’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.

Before committing to such a big and potentially disruptive move, we did two things.

First, Flea did a taster day at the school. She attended a full school day, and even though there was maths, and even though the food was ‘terrible’ Flea was more animated than I’ve seen her for months.

Second, I had another meeting with the head, to talk in a bit more detail about Flea’s academic history, and how we could help her settle into the school as painlessly as possible.

That done, we submitted a formal application to the school. We originally planned to move at Easter but I ended up asking for admission immediately. I felt Flea was only getting more stressed and disillusioned with school as time went on. I knew that changing schools in the middle of the year would be disruptive – but in this instance, it was the best option.

Once we’d received a written offer from the new school, I gave written notice to the old school. I had to give them a date when Flea should be removed from their school roll, and let them know which school she would be attending after that date. The schools handled all the sharing of records etc, so there was no admin on our side.

Luckily, it’s an independent school so we didn’t have to go through the appeals process.

Pros and Cons

Practically, changing schools in the middle of the year was surprisingly easy.

We were lucky to find a school that we know well, that was happy to offer her a place. Moving school in year 8 means you’re not guaranteed the school you want. If you’re going through this process with a local authority school, then if they have a space, they’re obliged to let your child take it if you’re in the catchment.

It’s made it a lot easier to know Flea has a place where she knows the school, and most of the students. She’s in a form with her old BFF and most of the girls in the class are hockey players who Flea knew from junior school, but also from her hockey club and the county squad.

moving school in Year 8

Even so, it’s been emotionally SO hard. And I don’t just mean buying two full sets of uniform in the same year.

As a parent, I’m feeling all the guilt and all the uncertainty right now. When you change schools, you’re taking your child away from all the things that ARE working along with all the things that aren’t.

If you’re a single parent, it’s a lot of responsibility making this sort of decision. I’m the one making this huge choice for her, and what do I know?

Do I have any sort of qualification to make this sort of call?

What if I’m making a terrible mistake?

What if I just make her even more unhappy? 

Flea had friends at her old school, and I’m taking her away from them.

She’s also had some great teachers. Especially the PE teachers and coaches.

Flea started senior school thinking she couldn’t *do* sport, and now she’s been selected to represent the county two years in a row. That’s pretty special, and I’m so grateful to those women for giving my girl that self-belief and fun at a time when she’s really needed it.

So yeah, it’s hard. Tears have been shed.

Most of them were mine. I’m the one trying (unsuccessfully) to hold it together in the car park and Flea’s the one who just looks… relieved.

I wish I was so sanguine.

My dentist tells me I’ve started grinding my teeth in my sleep. I feel as though someone’s sitting on my chest, half the time. For weeks, I’ve been waking up at 5am, mind churning.

But at least now, the decision is made.

Flea went off to school today. Apparently she’s 80% excited, 10% nervous and 10% depressed that it’s Monday. Which seems fair enough.

moving school in year 8

As my friend Pippa once told me, there are no wrong decisions. Just the decision that’s right at any given time. And changing schools feels like the right decision for right now.

Did you ever consider changing school in the middle of the year? Or did your child? If you have any tips or experiences, I’d love to hear them!


36 thoughts on “The One Where Flea Changes School”

  1. Oh gosh I’m sorry to see how much you’ve both been through. For some reason I find it heartening that you’ve changed schools in the middle of the year. I can’t stand the thought of my children being unhappy at school and I like to think I’d be brave enough to make the same decision as you. I know it’s a huge decision but you’ve done it because you want to see her happy and ultimately that’s all that really matters isn’t it?

    1. Thanks Nat – YES to putting kids’ happiness first, and I think that’s probably a decent lesson for Flea to learn. Don’t be afraid to make a big change when you’re not happy!

  2. We changed school just after Christmas, not because the children weren’t happy, but because they were all at a school out of catchment for our house ( long story ) and the driving too and from was driving me crazy with a baby. All three were happy with their school, but also happy to move. I agonised over the decision for weeks, especially as Zak is Y6 and it seemed a bit weird to move him at that point, but we did make the move and everyone is loving it and making more friends by the day and we can walk which makes me and the baby happy! Instead of 40 minutes of stress at each end of the day I now have 40 minute of exercise and semi fresh air!

    Zak has made lots of new friends who will go to the secondary school he is going to, so hopefully by moving in Y6 we have made the secondary transition easier.

    It wasn’t an easy decision though…

  3. Best of luck to Flea. Its utterly draining as a parent making decisions like this, I know. We changed 2 of our girls’ schools – One in Y10, one in Y4 and then again to a completely different school in Y7. I’m not saying its been plain sailing but the first 2 moves have changed their lives beyond our wildest dreams. I totally get that you don’t realise how much of their natural character has drained away before you make the change. We are still waiting to decide whether the last move is completely the right decision but you can only do your best & with love for your child. Sending love to you both.

  4. I changed school half way through 3rd year in high school and it was definitely the best thing for me. I’m positive it will be for Flea too!

    Also? Take that bloody guilt and chuck the lot of it out the window! Life’s too short for that shit- you’re an amazing mum, and Flea is a wonderful young woman because of you. *grabs you for a hug while you desperately try to twist away* 😛

  5. Good luck to your girl and I was her in lower sixth. And it was the best decision my mum helped me ever make. Even though I was nervous there was a sense of relief that I never had to go back there, never had to face those teachers, or the girls who made me feel miserable. Childhood is way way too short in the scheme of your whole life so absolutely make changes in the hope for the better. Wishing her a happier day and the next and the next xx

    1. Thanks Lucy. I think that’s the scary thing about it – that window between starting senior school and GCSEs is really very short when you look at it, and can be gone before you know it – so you HAVE to be quick if you’re going to make a change. Scary, though. I’m glad you had a positive experience, I think Flea also felt relief at knowing she wasn’t going back, not because it’s a terrible school, she just was finding it so hard.

  6. We had the exact same situation, and the exact same lightbulb moment, being on holiday and watching our boy smile and be fun – and realising just how long it was since we had seen that.
    With no other school options nearby, we opted for home education instead. And we have honestly never looked back.
    Hate something, change something – it’s something we teach our kids to live by. And I think teaching your children not to be afraid of making a change when things aren’t right is one of the most valuable lessons they can learn.
    Well done you – Flea’s going to be FINE.

    1. Yes, and I think we need to advocate for our kids sometimes and if a school isn’t prepared or able for whatever reason to do the best for a child, then that’s not the right place for them to be. But it’s a wrench, for us, it really is. But look how awesome your kids did!

  7. Fabulous honest post. It’s so hard and feels so final choosing a school. I’m not sure my son’s school is tight for him and I KNOW it won’t be right for my youngest but it’s all so scary even with a supportive partner. Knowing you and having met Flea I’m sure you have done the right thing for her. Your instinct is sound and she is very grounded. Sending positive vibes your way anyway.

  8. Oh all the best to you both, that’s heart wrenching for both of you… but especially for you. Follow your heart, you know your kid best and so good for you for stepping in and doing something. Gasp, I hope her first day went really well and she goes from strength to strength…

  9. This is such a hard decision for you guys to make. My goodness, I admire your ability to make a change, I don’t think many parents would but you know your child and when she’s not happy. The hardest thing for you, I guess, is that she had friends, the teaching was good but for whatever reason something wasn’t quite right. Sometimes a change is all that’s needed, a fresh start, to feel back and fighting at the top of the class again. It’s also difficult not to put that unhappiness and loss of interest in outside activities down to being a pre-teen and hormones. Having watched one of mine fall into a slow decline, I will never again put anything down to ‘hormones’ without exploring it in every way possible, first. Sometimes it is just hormones but I think we do need to trust our instincts more. I didn’t. You did. Well done and I hope Flea settles in well to her new school.

    1. Oh, yes, ALL of this. I think once I spotted how deeply Flea’s self-esteem was being eroded, there’s not really a big choice to make, you have to change it. Fingers crossed it’s for the best!

  10. Bunny changed schools one week into a new school year once. We’d moved house and lost an appeal to go to the nearest school. Then suddenly a place became available so we dropped everything and she moved the next day. Prior to that she moved mid-year from a different school (due to another house move). Both times it has been the right decision. She is thriving in her current school and currently practising from the grammar entrance exam which she is taking on Thursday. I’m more stressed than she is and mentally battling which school would be better for her – grammar or public. Her fate lies in her test results, but that doesn’t stop me worrying if I’ve done enough. It’s just mum life hey?!

    I hope Flea finds her old happy self again in her new school.

  11. oooh tough decision, but I’m sure it’s not one you’ve made lightly and first and foremost it’s the child’s happiness that counts. I’m sure Flea will thrive in an environment she’s happier in. I’ve been thinking about moving my Little Man for about a year now, and just as I think things are getting better it all goes wrong again. It’s time I stopped procrastinating and calling around other schools.

    1. Oh Anne, I’m sorry your boy isn’t having a happy time, it’s so hard to watch isn’t it? And you’re never sure whether to wait and see or not. Hope things pick up soon x

  12. I moved schools towards the end of year 10. Slap bang in the middle of my GCSE’s. A years worth of coursework in more than one subject became worthless and I spent the next summer making up the missed year. I went from having panic attacks, being afraid and feeling worthless to having the best year of my schooling. I should have moved in year 8 but we waited and saw……

  13. Sorry to hear both you & Flea have been going through such a tough time. It’s so difficult when they are not happy at school & you can’t help them. Sounds like the right decision & I hope she will continue to thrive & be happy in her new school. X

  14. That’s so tough, Sally. I know from personal experience what it’s like to have a child who’s unhappy in school, and as a parent the resultant constant self-doubt, second-guessing, and wondering ‘what if I’d done this, that or the other’? I know too how exhausting it can be to wake up each morning knowing the gauntlet you have to run; will they, won’t they got school? Will it be one of those rare plain-sailing mornings when it all flows, or will it be one of those days when you have to pull your child out from under the bed / inside the cupboard / behind the sofa where they’re hiding in the hope that they won’t have to go into class? It takes a toll (see the almost complete lack of posts on my blog over the last 2 years) not just on the child, but their family too. Keeping my fingers crossed that this will be a positive move for all of you. x

  15. I am sorry to hear that it did not work out at Flea’s old school but glad to hear that she’s taken the change well. It is so hard being a parent isn’t it – and we thought the baby days were bad.

  16. We moved our eldest at the end of year 7. Her grades were good, but she was really unhappy. It felt like a tough decision at the time. She was at an ex-grammar, which had a reputation of good results. It turned out to be the best decision for her. I know her grades would have slipped, as her happiness evaporated, if she’d stayed. The two schools could not have been more different in their approach. At the parent evenings, one saw her as a set of grades, while the other saw her as a person. She’s now in year 11, doing well and happy. She has learnt to love learning. You are right to follow your instinct. I hope Flea finds her feet, her happy and her enthusiasm again.

  17. Sorry to hear that you and your daughter have had such a rough time, you sound like an amazing Mum who has absolutely made the best decision for her daughter. 10% depressed on a Monday morning is fantastic. I am having problems with my older Son at the moment, he is about to go to High School and I’m hoping that the new start will do him good. Primary school has been mostly good for him until this year so its been somewhat of a shock and for us its a case of treading water through his final term.

  18. Can i ask and I know this sounds bad but did you ever worry that moving her won’t stop the problem and maybe the problem is her? My daughter is in yr7 and has had numerous issues with boys initially being quite horrible to her and last night I overheard a call from a girl who stopped when she knew i was listening only to carry on by text. Obviously we are all home schooling at the moment and my daughter doesn’t want to go back. It’s been mentioned at school about moving her year halves as she doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone in her classes, she’s in the top sets but so at are all the nasty ones it seems, so the only place she can go is to completely the other year half or move schools. Lost doesn’t come close right now

    1. Hi – ooh, that sounds so difficult. In our case it was probably a bit easier because the issue wasn’t about relationships with other children. Flea was a little shy but got along okay with everyone in her year at both her old and new schools. I wasn’t aware of anyone being unkind, our issues were mostly with teaching and management of the school.

      I think to some extent all kids go through the nastiness phase – in Flea’s case it didn’t really seem to be an issue until Year 9 when we saw a lot of movement in friendship groups and the odd nasty message from boys to some of the girls. I’ve let Flea navigate that herself with occasional intervention from me if something has gone too far I’ve been known to call parents, and if Flea’s behaviour isn’t what I’d expect of her (she can sometimes be a little too fond of gossip!) then we’ll have words about that, too. But nothing TOO nasty, thank goodness.

      I’d be inclined to try the shifting of groups as it might make all the difference – I think it takes sensitive kids a little time to find their feet (and their tribe) in senior school, and there are nasty kids at all schools, in the sense that sometimes ALL kids can be a little harsh to each other. But for us, I felt there’s only one childhood, if they’re truly not happy, why not a fresh start – and I wanted to move her before she went into Year 9 when the GCSE work starts.

      Good luck!

  19. I am thinking of moving my daughter school’s she’s year 8 and just isn’t settling in. She has just been diagnosed with adhd. She currently goes to a school that non of her primary/junior school friends go to and everyday is asking to move schools. The school she is currently at I thought was the best option for her but now I’m thinking I should move her to be around her old school friends. Anyone else had the same experience?

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