Oh boy. If you thought sending your child off to school for the first time was the hardest day of your parenting life, think again. Try taking them out of the first school, transporting them across state/country/continent (delete as applicable) and then asking them to go to a new one, where they know “NOBODY, and ALL THEIR FRIENDS ARE BACK HOME..”.
In reality, starting a new school is not the end of the world that our children would have us believe, but it is one of the most stressful parts of any move, for all concerned.
The bottom line is that you and your child are looking for completely different things in a school; for you, you need to be sure that the school provides a safe and nurturing environment and is academically stimulating, while your child wants friends, interesting teachers, fun play equipment and good snacks. Not necessarily in that order.
So ask yourself what is most important to you long term. For a “third culture’ child, they are unlikely to achieve long term academic success without first addressing their emotional well-being, so my advice is to look for a school that meets those needs first, and worry about the academics later. My mother, a child development specialist, always maintained that children only developed in one area at a time, so when they were going through a physical growth spurt, their emotional development would slow down for a time, and if they were in a socially challenging situation, their academic performance would dip. Education is a journey, not a race, and so my preference is to go with a school that meets their social and emotional needs, rather than necessarily having the best academic record. However, there are plenty of people who would disagree with me, so whatever your parenting preferences, here are my top strategies for finding a great school.
Make a list of available schools. Places to find these are your HR department and future work colleagues, Google search, expat websites, destination service provider or relocation counselor, or your Embassy.
Contact these schools in advance, requesting a prospectus or information. Private schools will usually have a printed prospectus available, public schools may have a website.
Information to look for includes:
Numbers of children at the school, and demographic profile
Numbers of children moving in and out of the school
Academic curriculum followed – most commonly US, UK or International Baccalaureate
Age range at school, and which schools children commonly progress to
Class size / student:teacher ratio
Range of classes offered
Qualifications of teaching staff
Overall philosophy and values of the school
Antisocial behavior policy.
Bear in mind that school test scores can be affected by high numbers of ESL / EFL (English as a Second /Foreign Language) students, by having a higher number of students with differentiated learning needs, or by rigorous entry requirements. It is most important to find a school that reflects your values, whether they be academic rigor, cultural diversity, sporting excellence, alternative teaching methods or all the above, rather than looking simply for high test scores or a foreign language program. However, if you know you will be moving often but would like your child to attend college in a specific country, it’s a good idea to follow a single type of curriculum that is widely accepted once they reach high school years. While colleges are becoming more flexible about the range of entry qualifications they accept, there is no point in making it more difficult for your child than it needs to be.
Visit shortlisted schools. If possible, take the child or children that would be attending the school with you, so that they can experience each school and you can see how school staff interact with your children. Preferably visit during school hours to observe classes, watch how the children and teachers interact, and get an understanding of the school culture as a whole. Encourage questions from your children, and take time to visit the parts of the school that they want to see. Especially the bathrooms – you can learn a great deal about a school from their bathrooms..
Select a school, and arrange for your child’s school transcript to be sent to them in advance and a copy for your own records. Request copies of the new school calendar, the name and email of your child’s teacher, and any immunization, uniform or school supply requirements, and the contact details for any parent organizations, both in the school and the community. Write a brief note to your child’s teacher, introducing yourself, your child and anything you feel would it would help them to know, and invite questions from them. Finally, check if there are any supplies / resources / donations etc. that you can bring, that are not on the official list. As a final note, remember that teachers are people too, and can be a wonderful source of information, recommendations and support in the early days, so any efforts you make now will be amply repaid when you land.