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Letter from the Editor. I’m a Parent – Get Me Out of Here. A Guide to Changing Schools during Coronavirus Covid 19.
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Letter from the Editor. I’m a Parent – Get Me Out of Here. A Guide to Changing Schools during Coronavirus Covid 19.

by Jon WestleyApril 28, 2020

We have been inundated with messages from parents that they have, simply, had enough. It is significant, that far fewer parents have contacted us with stories about how supportive their schools have been. This does not mean that schools have not been supportive – it is just that parents, understandably, are more vocal about those that they perceive as having failed them.

The outpouring of frustration, no doubt exacerbated by the pressures on family life of lockdown, are real. Social media is awash with parents frustrated, and sometimes angry, with schools in two key areas:

  • Fee reductions – too little, too late
  • Distance learning – too little support, or too much pressure

The link between both is that, at a time that parents and children have needed their schools to be there for them, the perception of some parents is that care and support has been found wanting.

  • Words are easy, actions count.

For the first time in many years, parents in large numbers are now thinking through the option of changing schools.

It’s not an easy decision.

  • Children have established friendships and, with them, family relationships that extend beyond school.
  • Many children are in critical phases of their education – disruption could hurt their education.
  • Jumping out of the frying pan could mean jumping into another fire. Is another school going to be any better?
  • Changing schools is difficult in normal times, but how can you visit potential alternative schools when you are locked down?

Historically, these worries have, in many cases, limited the number of families who move beyond the thinking about moving schools, to acting on it.

Those worries, today, are being increasingly outweighed by frustration and anger:

  • Schools have not supported parents when finances have become stretched, or income disappeared entirely. Relationships and trust have broken down as parents worry that schools care more about fees than their, or their child’s, welfare.
  • Distance learning is not working, or not working well enough.
  • There is no trust that schools will ensure that every child will catch up when they do return to school after the lockdown is lifted.
  • There is no trust that schools will ensure that children are safe and protected when they do return to school, with effective social distancing.
  • Perception that profit is being put before children.
  • Perception of lack of school transparency in publishing their own finances, whilst asking parents to publish theirs.

As dissent and disquiet has grown, the sector, as a whole, is responding.

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Schools are offering some, or all, of the following:

  • Discounts off Term 3 fees. The percentage differs.
  • Promises that they will consider family circumstances and respond proportionately.
  • Means testing of family incomes.
  • Investment in new technology to make distance learning work better.
  • Promises that they will ensure that when children return to school no child will be left behind and help will be provided to ensure every child catches up.

Means testing of families to decide the degree to which schools will support families, because it implies lack of trust, has become a particular point of contention and breakdown of relationships between parents and schools.

Schools are losing families. Whilst statistics are scarce, the evidence suggests that the number of families now removing their children from existing schools to new ones is growing and statistically significant.

This has seen schools responding by

  • Launching fee discounts for families to encourage them to join their schools.
  • Establishing better communications with existing parents to try and keep them.
  • Increasing financial incentives, often not publicised, for parents to stay.
  • Investment in virtual tours for parents so that they can visit schools online to get as close to possible to the type of tour parents would do if there was no lockdown in place.

So, where does this now leave schools and parents?

  • The risks for schools are now serious. There is no longer certainty about income next year.
  • Relationships where they have been soured, will be difficult to recover.
  • Positively, relationships, where they have been strengthened, have created long-lasting bonds between schools and parents.

How are parents responding?

  • Parents, under lock down, have more time now to invest in considering moving schools.
  • The timing is good for families to think about moving schools. Children are not due to return to school until after the Summer holidays and children can start a new school at the beginning of the academic year.
  • Parents are now increasingly thinking about keeping their children in the UAE and not sending them to other countries for Boarding School or Sixth Form. Think smart, think local.

How are schools responding?

  • Schools are increasingly fighting to retain parents.
  • Schools are now fighting to attract new families to replace those that they are losing.

If this is the broad-brush background to where schools and families now find themselves, our view is that communication is now critical.

Schools must now improve their communication with existing families. This means being much more transparent – but also laying out clearly what their plans are to protect each child’s education as children return to school. This must cover ensuring that no child is left behind – and physical changes to schools that will take place so that children are not put at risk. Schools need to think better how to respond to the financial needs of families. How will schools, now and in the future, respond to families if their financial circumstances worsen? Schools need to think about bursaries and how they will be implemented moving forward.

Parents must now speak with schools about exactly what they need from them. This is likely to be financial, but also will address worries about distance learning and the shape of education to come.

Do give your existing school a (second) chance. If you do not ask, you will not know the answers. Many parents have been surprised about how responsive their existing schools have been. Many schools will help in ways that they do not publicise. They too are learning – we have none of us been in an equivalent situation before.

Where relationships have broken down, or where parents are locked out of schools because of fees or financial circumstances, or where simply it is right for their child to change schools, now is the time to start researching the options and writing down all the questions you need answers to.

Changing schools is a big decision – get a plan together answering simple questions.

What is important to you in a school? Write down everything that you need – financial, the curriculum, subject breadth, facilities, ECAs, classroom sizes, how schools will look after your child ….

Write down all the good things about your current school. Speak with your children about what they value.

School telephone numbers and web site addresses can be found on all our reviews. One test is to see whether, when you call potential new schools, calls are answered, emails responded to, and the degree to which those schools respond to your questions. Ask schools every question you can.

At the end of this process, you should have the information you need to make your decision. Our reviews of schools, the answers you have gained from them yourselves when you have called or emailed them and the reviews of other web sites will help build a picture.

Look to your finances – do not be pressured to spread yourself too thin. Work out what you can genuinely afford. Be open with schools. Do not be fearful of approaching schools with higher fees – many schools will seek to accommodate families.

Coronavirus Covid 19 has put many things in all our lives in perspective. It has tested schools and parents. It has opened and closed doors. If we put children first, schools and parents, we will all, together, be able to bring some good out it.

There are no universally right answers here. Changing schools remains an issue of complex questions and challenges. Coronavirus Covid 19 has simply brought these questions and challenges to the forefront of many parents minds – not made them any more simple to answer or address.

What there is, however, to guide us, are the right answers for your children, and you together as a family.

If your existing school is not providing these, it is time for change.

From that comes opportunity and hope at a time both can seem in very short supply.

© SchoolsCompared.com. All rights reserved. 2020.

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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