Back to school: How to decide on a school last minute

It’s Back To School time, which, for some of us, means a little light relief. However, if you’re new to the region, your child is moving up a stage or it’s simply time for a change, you could be looking for a new school. Choosing the right school can be a nerve-wracking experience for any parent. You’re not sure if the school can offer your child what he or she needs or if it’s really the right school for them. Lots of unforeseen circumstances can lead to you having to choose a school under time constraints. If you’ve found yourself in a sticky situation, don’t panic, because we’ve got everything you need to know before you decide on a school last minute. From what to look for on school visits, the application procedure and what to do if you change your mind, here’s some insight into how to deal with the situation. We’ve spoken to experts to get everything you’ve asked, answered.

Getting started, what should parents consider while trying to decide on the right school?
Take a deep breath. Try to think about what you might want from the school, as well as what your child, as an individual, needs. Executive Principal of Sunmarke School, Mr Keith Miller said, “think about - do they do well in larger environments, in multi-cultural settings, and alongside peers who have English as an additional language? Are you looking for a more traditional didactic approach, or innovative and creative approach where children lead their own learning? Think about which country you are going home to - the UK, America or Europe? Whether GCSEs and A-Levels are more appropriate, or if a variety of pathways would be more suitable.” School location also plays a role in your child’s happiness. Principal Andrew Prosser at Dubai Heights Academy said, “Think about the school’s location in relation to where you will be living. This will have an impact not only on journey times to and from school but will also impact on your child’s social life with play dates etc. No one knows your child better than you do. You will get a feel for the school that is best for your child.”

What questions should parents ask schools when choosing the right one for their child?
Finding out what you really want to know about a school can be tricky. You don’t necessarily know what to ask in order to understand how a school will benefit your child. Manvi Govil, Special Projects Manager at Innoventures Education says to concentrate on: “The school’s core values, vision and what it stands for. Parents need to then compare with their own vision for their child’s education and what their expectations might be. How the school aims to develop the “whole child” - academically, personally and socially. On the academic perspective, then a school or group’s track record of successful examination performance and university entrance provides reassurance that the school will prepare their child with the skills they need for the future, and jobs that might not currently exist. For the personal, social and emotional side then the KHDA Inspection reports can provide an indicator, but there is no real substitute for visiting the school and seeing the children in their learning environment. The quality and range of after school activities on offer are also of vital importance to a child’s holistic development and their enjoyment of school, as well as the enrichment activities that take place during the school day.”

What should parents be looking out for on a school visit?
Knowing what to look out for on a school visit is crucial to getting your questions answered. Everything from the teaching environment and how happy the children are within the school can be determined if you get an overall feel of the school itself. Fiona McKenzie, Director, Gabbitas Education Middle East said, “this is a chance to delve into what the school is all about. What type of school it is and does it fit your priorities? What are its core values? What is the learning environment like? Do they encourage the development of softer skills such as emotional intelligence and resilience? What does pastoral support and discipline look like? What are the facilities like and what’s included in the extra-curricular programme? This is your opportunity to have all of your questions answered. So make sure you have a list prepared in advance and don’t be afraid and make sure you leave with each one answered. Remember, you are the customer and this is your opportunity to ensure you make the right investment.”

Do different ages determine what a child needs from most from a school?
Children of different ages require different things, whether it’s educational, extracurricular or even the classroom’s overall environment. Focusing on what your child needs, dependent on their age, can be the key to finding a school that will really help them excel. Manvi Govil said, “while each age group requires a different emphasis in terms of pastoral care, the focus should always be on the overall development of the child. A programme that identifies the unique strengths, weaknesses, skills and abilities of each child, targeting these areas with a personalised approach to their learning, is very much the right strategy.”

Once you’ve decided, what is the procedure for last minute entries?
Schools are generally accommodating for parents who apply late and have procedures in place for students who do so. Enquire with the school of your choice to determine what you need to do in order to secure your child’s place. Fiona McKenzie said, “many schools will be open to last minute entries in certain year groups and it is always worth trying. We have a good success rate at getting children into competitive schools at the last minute. Schools will require reports from any previous school, and ask children to sit an assessment of some kind. If for some reason a parent is unhappy with the decision they have made then we would advise talking to the school and discussing any issues. If the parent decides to withdraw their child then there are a series of procedures they will have to go through. If they leave within a couple of weeks then they may only lose the assessment and registration fee if it is later than that then they will probably have to pay the first terms fees but they should be entitled to have the other cheques retuned.”

If a parent is unhappy with their decision, what is the procedure?
If you are in a situation where you feel as though you’ve made the wrong decision, don’t panic - there are always ways to resolve your concerns. Joanne Grindlay, Director of Enrolment, Al Najah Education said “it is always advisable to speak to your child’s teacher first, as they are the one who will know your child best. If it is a serious issue, ask to meet with them at a time when neither of you will be rushed. Teachers are as keen to resolve problems as you are, but that does not always mean that you will agree! Always give the teacher time to look into the issue, and don’t expect an immediate decision until they have - there are always two sides to a story, (sometimes more!) If you are not satisfied with the outcome or actions, arrange to meet with someone more senior; most schools will have a policy or handbook which explains who you should go to if you have an issue, and who to escalate it to if you are not satisfied. The school principal is a last resort, and should only be seen once several other people have been spoken to; this might include a head of department, an assistant headteacher, a deputy headteacher or a vice principal. What parents often try to do is go straight to the top, which is neither practical nor helpful in most cases. If a parent is unhappy about a decision that a school has made, it is always advisable to talk to someone at the school. Very often your child’s class teacher will be able to explain why a decision is made, and if not, someone more senior will. Schools never make decisions with the intention of upsetting parents, and there is almost always a rationale for the decision. However, schools sometimes get things wrong and the best ones apologise when they do!”

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