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Changing Schools – The 2020 Guide for Parents

Changing Schools – The 2020 Guide for Parents

by Jane TalbotFebruary 19, 2020

Background – Changing Schools. When a School is Not Working for Your Child, it is time to Jump Ship.

Whether or not to move our children to a new school is a complicated decision of pros and cons, a weighing up of the guaranteed disruption against the potential benefits.

Cons include the stress children will almost inevitably feel leaving their teachers once a bond has been established. Further, children can find difficulty managing the emotional upheaval that comes with leaving friendship groups. The change in environment can also be a source of anxiety and fear.

Many parents worry about jumping out of frying pans – straight into another fire.

Yet, there are influencing factors that make the stress of transferring to a new school, and in some cases by a long way, the lesser of two evils.

As parents, we should never regret worrying about whether our child is in the right school. It is part and parcel of being a responsible parent. And if the worries become overwhelming, it is almost certainly time to act. Ongoing worry about our children at school should absolutely not be the norm and something, somewhere, has gone, or is going, wrong.

The usual drivers for changing schools include:


Your Circumstances Change

Needs must when the circumstances are beyond your control. Perhaps you have moved to a new house and the commute and traffic is simply too much. Or you have been forced to change jobs and school fees are no longer included. Perhaps the current school’s curriculum is no longer relevant to their future country of residence.

Your Children Change

As our children grow, their individual needs change and their unique personalities emerge. Occasionally, despite our best intentions, we find that we have made the wrong choice, despite the very best of intentions, in the initial school selection. We discover later that a given school does not suit our child’s emerging needs and personality.

 The School Is Failing in Some Way

As parents we do our best to choose the right school for our children. The ever-increasing number of schools in the UAE does make for a daunting and overwhelming choice. This leaves greater scope for making what may turn out to be the right decision – but also the wrong one. In many cases, with no blame on either party, the school and child do not fit. There is no such thing as one school that is the best school for every child.


Red flags – When You Should Start Thinking about Changing Schools

1. Unresolved Bullying

Bullying in schools can have a catastrophic impact on children. The best schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stop it immediately.

Bullying in schools has long been a scourge that has a lasting negative impact on a child’s mental and emotional well-being. The experience of bullying can be horrific for children and parents.

The Ministry of Education, in 2018, launched an anti bullying campaign to raise awareness of bullying across the UAE.  The campaign focused on what bullying is, the impact it has and how students and schools should respond to stop it.

Minister of State for General Education, H.E. Jameela Salem Al Muhairi states:

“We are determined to educate our students and to raise the awareness of the public on bullying and its harmful effects.

 Multiple research studies have found that the short term and long-term effects of bullying on those involved, on the education system and [..] wider society are far more profound and lasting than previously believed.

 Bullying negatively affects students’ educational performance and their emotional and mental growth.”

All schools in the UAE must have anti-bullying policies in place to counter the possibility of bullying occurring – and they must also have set procedures in place to manage the situation when it does.

However, despite this, a recent study indicates that 13% of children surveyed claimed to have been bullied.  This number soars to 88% if we include on-line bullying. The impact of social media cannot be underestimated – and schools are responding. More on this here.

A good school with an effective anti-bullying culture will always quickly rectify an issue without too much, if any, damage being done.

But, if a school is not taking the issue seriously, or is not taking effective steps to cease the behaviour, then this is a major red flag for parents that it is time to move their child to another school. Any school that comes out with anything like “boys will be boys” (a comment we heard recently stated to a parent) is not a school following even basic guidelines on bullying.

You should expect, as soon as you notify your school that your child is being bullied, that it ceases immediately.

This does not mean, however rightfully upset you are, that you should expect the bully to be expelled. Bullies are children too – and children make mistakes. A child that acts as a bully is demonstrating bullying behaviour. We should not jump from that to defining that child as fixed forever, in themselves, a bully. Often, bullies need significant help themselves to understand the impacts of their behaviour.

But the bullying should stop without any consequences for your child. If it does not, the school is failing you both.


My child is not developing as well as I hoped ….

Team sports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi schools are a must.

School is more than teaching Mathematics, Science and English; it is about social, emotional and physical development too.

If a child has stopped developing in any of these areas, then it is time to start asking questions.

Perhaps the school is overly focused on one area of provision only. Some schools continue to focus significantly on high academic results, often in a limited number of subjects, to appear successful in school league tables. A school that performs well in league tables may well be a poor school that hides its restricted education behind the numbers.

For example, there are numerous global studies extolling the virtues of children taking part in team sports from a young age.

Team activities teach a child about teamwork, responsibility and commitment – as well as supporting obvious physical and health benefits. A love of Sport at a young age is shown to have vital impacts as we are older in inspiring us to continue looking after ourselves and our health. A school that has poor sports provision is missing a vital educational element for all children, not just those who excel in physical activities and disciplines. Too often we see schools in which certain sports exclude boys or girls. All sports should be available to all children.

Many schools too, still work in the dark ages by teaching through rote learning in classrooms in which the teacher teaches and children listen.

Leaning facts is, however, simply not learning.

A challenging, modern, interactive, cross-curricular and dynamic approach to teaching supports safe risk taking and creates future global citizens that are innovative and questioning – skills vital in the post-industrial, digital economy facing our children when they enter the workplace.

Too much “chalk and talk” and not enough adventure has knock on impacts on academic and whole child development, confidence and creativity. It limits a child’s future.


The School Cannot Cater for your Individual Child’s Needs, Potential and Abilities

Schools with limited subject choice are driving families away. Good schools also ensure that boys and girls have the same access to every subject.

All children have strength and weaknesses, and some have unique talents that should be challenged and harnessed for that child to reach their full potential.

We all, as parents, select the school that best suits our child’s needs at the time of enrolment.  But as above, our children develop and grow. Their personalities, identity, sense of self and gifts evolve.

Our children’s needs change – and it may be that a school can no longer meet them as well as another, alternative, school could, if at all.

This can be particularly evident at key inflection points in every child’s development – and, of these, the most usual are at the point children move into Secondary education and Sixth Form. Equally though, gifted-ness in any area, for example, ballet or the violin, can occur at any time – and there are schools (like Cranleigh Abu Dhabi) that are well known for their expertise in the Performing Arts. More on Cranleigh Abu Dhabi can be found here.

Equally, it may be that your child would be best suited to a school that puts a lot of emphasis on Science or Technology or a school that focuses heavily on Art.

Art is a good example of a subject that some schools do not invest in sufficiently. Art can, wrongly, be judged as a secondary subject, if not one that is altogether irrelevant, because it does not figure highly in academic league tables. We know of schools that have sent their primary school teachers on short up-skill courses so that they can facilitate art lessons within their own classrooms rather than investing in specialist Art teachers and related specialist Art classrooms. This would obviously be to the detriment of a child who excels in Art but whose skills are not being nurtured. Equally, all children should have access to resourced learning in Art – when visiting schools, you should expect to see Art studios and classrooms with children’s work on display that takes your breath away.

A final weakness of many schools is their complete lack of technical and vocational pathways. In the best International Baccalaureate and British A’ Level schools you will see parallel technical streams. In IB schools you should look for the IB Career-related Programme as well as the IB Diploma. In British curriculum schools you should look for BTEC as well as A’ Level. The outstanding British School of Al Khubairat, for example, provides a BTEC in Engineering – the only school to offer this in the UAE. More here. Dubai English Speaking College offers a BTEC in Sport and is recognised as one, if not the best school for Sport in the UAE. More here. For information on Dubai English Speaking College achievements in Sport, see here. Dubai British School in Jumeirah Park will see the benefits of a new Taaleem partnership with Dubai Performing Arts (DPA), to jointly launching the first BTEC Level 3 qualification in the Performing Arts to be offered in the UAE. More on Dubai British School here.

When we enrol a child at a school, we cannot know how they will develop. We cannot foretell whether they will need technical or purely academic subject options, or a mix of the two. We also cannot know whether our son or daughter will be a high-flyer in Psychology, Politics or Resistant Materials.  It makes good sense then, to always choose schools that offer the broadest range of subjects to choose from as the child rises through a school – and a choice of technical and academic subject options.

Many parents find themselves, later, in schools with a restrictive curriculum and without the subject offers to meet the needs, potential, interest and ambitions of their child. This is a critical red flag that it is time to change schools.


The School and the Parent’s Ethos Are Not Aligned

Numerous studies have shown time and again that school community is fundamentally important to a child’s academic success.

A happy school community includes the leadership team, support staff, parents and students who all work toward achieving a common goal.

Schools with a strong ethos have higher teacher retention, more engaged parents and students resulting in higher achievement.

Two prime examples of schools in the UAE which align their vision and ethos with their curriculum are The Arbor School and Fairgreen School. Both schools, in different ways, and across different curricular (The Arbor School is a British Curriculum School where Fairgreen School offers the International Baccalaureate) are focused on sustainability, environmental technology and ethics. Both schools have created extraordinary places of learning in which a shared culture of ambitions sees their students and families thriving, inspired and driven by a shared sense of purpose to make a better world and understand the challenges of creating a sustainable modern economy.

More on The Arbor School can be found here.

More on Fairgreen International School can be found here.

If a school ethos is not relevant to a parent’s expectations for their child, or the student’s pathway, then a conflict of goals occurs. The parents and students will not engage with the community and the vital sense of belonging will be lacking. In this instance, it would be beneficial to the student to enrol in a school in which they can feel meaningfully connected.


Special Educational Needs (SEN) are Not Being Met

In Dubai it has been estimated that 20% of children have special educational needs, yet not all schools invest in the resources that are needed to meet those children’s needs.

Jules transferred her daughter to a new elementary school in Grade 3 due to the school’s apparent inability to help her manage her dyslexia:


“The school were able to identify early that my daughter had learning issues, which I thought was a good sign.

 However, as the years passed, she seemed to be making little progress and was falling further and further behind her classmates.

 Her IEP was really generic – and I had to constantly push the school for meetings and updates.

 It was starting to affect her confidence, so I started to look for another school that had a more established SEN Department.

 Changing schools was hard because my daughter genuinely liked the school she was at, but we had to put her academic progress first.

 We did see improvements quite quickly with the new school and although she will always find learning a challenge, at least she has the right support now.”


The KHDA have very recently announced new guidance and directives for schools to ensure that they welcome all children of determination if they apply for their school:


“The entry assessment process for students of determination must focus on identifying strengths and challenges to learning as well as the strategies that will contribute to the student’s success.

The function of the entry assessment process for students of determination is to inform the school’s provision planning and enable them to be enrolled in the school.”


More can be found on why schools should be welcoming children of determination can be found here.

Some schools, however, are better equipped to provide for children of determination than others.

Should a parent feel that their child’s specific special needs are not being met, moving them to a school with a specialist SEND department that has the faculty and the resources to meet their child’s needs will make a big difference. It is vital that parents visit a potential new school to speak directly to the SEND Department teachers and see the facilities for themselves. A good example of a school with an outstanding specialist SEND department is iCademy Middle East – more here.


The Privilege, and Responsibilities, of Choice


The increasing competition across the education sector in the UAE has seen new top-rated schools popping up across the Emirates. The UAE government has taken great strides to introduce more regulations and guidelines to improve the quality of education – and attracted an increasing number of very high-quality schools to open. The result is that, as parent’s we now have serious choice.

The choices that this presents us with as parents, however, can be as much a burden as privilege.

The upheaval of settling into a new school can be a daunting prospect and the anxiety that comes with seeking new friends in a new environment is real. But if family circumstances have changed or a child’s needs have evolved or there are worrying issues in the current school, then the upheaval becomes necessary.

Even five years ago, parents often did not have any alternatives when schools no longer met the needs of their child. We learned today of a parent who had paid a terms worth of fees to a school to even be considered by the school, and then saw her child being turned down with the fees not refunded. Those days have gone.

Today choices abound.


The Current School is now Too Expensive, Poor Value or your Financial Circumstances Change

Many parents find themselves in a situation in which school fees simply become unaffordable.

As often, schools simply become no longer competitive – their existing school offers lower value at higher cost than alternative schools. Some schools coast – believing that parents simply will leave their children at the school to avoid any upheaval, whilst plying new parents with discounts and reductions in fees.

Faced with alternative schools that are more affordable, offering a better standard of education – and offering a better fit with your child’s needs, the case for moving schools becomes overwhelming.

We do believe that you should always discuss with your school your concerns. You will find in the current climate, depending on your case, that schools are open to negotiating on fees or providing options to retain your child(ren).

We have seen negotiation take place, for example, in US curriculum schools that do not offer Advanced Placement – when students clearly need this to secure places in top tier British or Us universities.

Many parents move schools when it becomes painfully clear that the fees are significantly higher than an alternative school offering the subjects that their children really want to study – and which are simply not available in their existing school.


The Red Tape – What to do when the Choice to Change Schools has been Made

  1. Research potential schools for your child and visit each one at least once before you make the final choice. Our guide on “Choosing the Right School for Your Child” can be found here.
  2. Complete the application process with the new school and secure the confirmation of placement well in advance of the potential start date. There are some regulations regarding when you can make the transfer depending on whether there is a curriculum change or move to another Emirate. Details can be found on our sister site, here.
  3. Give a term’s notice to the old school: Check the small print in the parent- school contract. If you leave mid-term it is very unlikely that you will get a refund on the remainder of the term.
  4. Be financially prepared. It is also increasingly common for schools to ask for pre-registration confirmation and partial fee payment for them to guarantee a place for your child in the coming term/school year. The advanced fee paid is non-refundable should you change your mind or have a change in circumstances. We do know, however, of many cases in which parents have fought the no- refund policy and won when their circumstances have changed beyond their control, such as being made redundant or leaving the country unexpectedly. Certainly, we would expect this of the best schools in the UAE.
  5. It is important that a place in the new school is confirmed before you give notice to the old one. Ensure that you have this in writing.
  6. Get the School Transfer Certificate. A transfer certificate documents your child’s details and includes which school they attended, dates attended and the last school grade. The certificate is typed or written written on official school paper and signed by the Principal. It is the responsibility of the old school to prepare the school transfer certificate, which must then be attested by the relevant governing body (KHDA, ADEK or another appropriate regulator). All outstanding fees must have been paid to the school before the transfer certificate will be released. The transfer certificate process was established as a way for UAE governments to ensure that:
    • all school age children in the Emirates are registered
    • that when children move schools, they are placed in the appropriate grade.
  7. Understand the different requirements of different types of schools. This is especially important if the child is moving to a new school that follows a different curriculum. For example, Canadian schools have a January age cut off to determine which grade a child will be placed into. Conversely, in the British system, there is a September cut off.


The Final Hurdle

Leaving schools can be a struggle - but happiness is at the next junction for your children and family

Once the decision to move schools has been made, and the necessary paperwork has been completed, all that is left is managing the move.

Changing schools can be a challenging time for children and for parents – especially if the reasons for the move caused anxiety. But it can also be a cathartic change that turns out to be a positive, rewarding and necessary one that can see a child’s development flourish.

You should expect the warmest possible welcome from your child’s new school – and this should balance out any frustrations you may face with their old school.

You will at times feel overwhelmed. All parents changing schools feel this – and you are not alone.

However, if you have reached this stage, you must be confident that you have done the right thing. You have put your child and family first. By understanding the process and following the regulator’s guidelines too, you will have planned and kept the potential upheaval to a minimum.

Changing schools takes courage. But it may just save your child from a childhood blighted by an unhappy education, or one in which they simply never had the opportunity to meet their potential. That, quite simply, will be, is … an achievement beyond price.

© 2020. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Jane Talbot
Special Projects Reporter on, Jane Talbot is a renowned features journalist and researcher recognised for her in-depth and inciteful documentation of key issues facing parents in education worldwide. She brings to more than two decade’s experience in journalism and an authentic, deeply compassionate commitment to writing that places the welfare of children and families centre stage. “I write to support families facing the hardest decisions in education – whether that is the first day at school or navigating challenges like dyslexia. I see journalism as a vocation that promises, little by little, to change the world for the better. SchoolsCompared gives me the chance to play my part, for parents and children, in that bigger picture.”

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