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.
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.
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!