Applying for school places out of term time

Getting the timing right when moving children to a new school is just one of many things on the relocating family’s to-do list, but what if a move inevitably falls outside of the usual school admissions rounds? We take a look at how parents can best manage the process.

Australian International School Singapore

Australian International School Singapore

International Guide 18/19 video
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Parents certainly have their work cut out for them when a relocation move results in their child changing schools. From negotiating the formal state-school admissions and ensuring minimum disruption to their child’s studies, to arming themselves with all the necessary paperwork and forms.

English state schools

In England, the deadlines for first applications to state schools are in October for secondary schools and January for primary schools, both for admission in the following September. In this case, parents usually apply to the local authority in which they live for places at their preferred schools (although in some counties it is the individual schools themselves that deal with admissions.)Relocating families will clearly struggle to fit into that neat pattern, and often find themselves in a position where they fall outside what is called the ‘normal admissions round’ and face applying as an ‘in-year’ admission.In recent years the UK government has done much to speed up the process of in-year admissions.Parents should in the first instance contact the Local Authority in the county in which they are applying to find out how to apply.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsWithin the normal admissions rounds, parents find out which school their child has been allocated on ‘National Offer Day’ – 16 April for Primary Schools and 1 March for Secondary Schools. In-year admissions are different and vary according the Local Authority in which you are applying but the timescale from application to allocation of a school place can take between two and six weeks.“London offers a very wide range of excellent schools,” says Karin Purcell, director of development and communications at Marymount International School London, a girls-only independent day and boarding school. “Parents can choose between co-educational international schools, single-sex A-Level schools as well as co-educational A-Level schools. Students relocating from abroad will, however, find the admissions to schools that offer GCSEs very restrictive unless they time it absolutely perfectly for Year 9. Perfect timing for Sixth Form is also essential.”For those considering applying to grammar schools via the 11+ route, Ms Purcell also warns of the difficulties. “For younger students, admissions into UK schools via the 11+ exams presents a particular problem unless they are fully prepared and immersed in the UK system,” she explains.

Independent and international schools

Typically independent and international schools operate a rolling admissions programme, which means that parents are free to apply at any time for a place at the school. While these schools do not come with the complications inherent in English state-school admissions, getting the timing right and navigating the paperwork still requires careful attention, no matter where in the world the family is moving.Even choosing a starting point at the beginning of a term or semester can be preferable in terms of both an academic and psychological standpoint as often local students will be returning from a holiday and embarking on something new in the curriculum. It enables a relocating child to share a ‘starting point’ in some small way.“Prior to making a school choice, the best option is to call the school to confirm space and book in a tour to view the school,” explains Julie Yorke, director of admissions at the Australian International School (AIS) in Singapore, a school which teaches the IB, IGCSE and Australian curriculum. “Once a decision is made, most schools have a fairly concise online enrolment process. Normally the requirements include a copy of the child’s birth certificate, passport and most recent school reports.”Places at good International and independent schools do fill up quickly, however as Praveen Muruganandan, director of admission and advancement at The York School in Canada explains, “There are a number of excellent independent schools in Toronto. Relocating families have the benefit of a range of options (co-ed, single-sex, IB, AP, Montessori, Waldorf etc.) based on their interests. Many independent schools fill up by the spring preceding Fall entry, so relocating families initiating a late school search may have more limited options due to availability.”Communication, advance planning and creative solutions to obstacles are likely to become second nature to the relocating parent moving a child in-year, but it is worth reminding families that the process must start as soon as they aware they are going to be relocating.“It is never too early to start inquiring about a school place,” says Erin Woodhams, director of admissions at the British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park, a Nord Anglia school offering personalised education to children from the ages of three to 18. “Many schools will be able to help you through their process remotely if looking from abroad.“When beginning your search for a school, try and connect with as much of a school’s community as possible – teachers and current families, not just admissions staff,” she says. “They will be able to give you some perspective of their experiences and help answer your questions.”

Paperwork: school records and teacher references

There are tricky times of year to watch out for when making a start on gathering school records. Linda Kavanagh, dean of admissions at ACS Egham International School, believes that the summer period can pose unique problems.“Teachers are either away on annual leave, or else may be in the process of moving to a new school themselves, so, if you know you are moving before the summer, prioritise getting these references before your current school breaks up for the holidays,” she says.“Starting this process as soon as possible, once you know you are set to move, will avoid stress and the possibility of your child being between schools, which everyone wants to avoid.”If the move involves children with special educational needs (SEN) or a requirement for extra support in lessons, then more forms and paperwork may have to be completed as part of the admissions process. Admissions staff advise that several weeks should be factored in on top of the normal planning process to ensure that parents find a school that suits their child’s needs.

Helping children to fit in

No parent wishes to see their child struggle with an in-year school move, so any amount of advance planning could be hugely beneficial. When visiting a school or finalising admissions or registration paperwork, picking up textbooks or reading-lists ahead of time can give some students a chance to get a flying start. Many international schools are extremely sensitive to the needs of relocating families as explains Courtney Knight, head of admissions at the International School of Paris, “Often, as expatriates themselves, admissions teams at international schools are experts in accompanying families during their transition – they understand a variety of national systems, the local school system and, above all, the importance of ensuring a smooth integration into a new school. They understand that the safety and happiness of a child in school is the first step to a successful stay in a new country.”Concordia International School, Shanghai, which offers an American education, provides a wide range of support for relocating families, as explains the school’s director of admissions, Evelyn Chaveriat, “The elementary school’s Successful Start programme transitions first-time students into the school environment in a way that relieves anxiety and fosters social learning that benefits children, families and teachers. Small groups of students begin the first three days of school with 90-minute classroom sessions. They later attend three half-day classes with the entire class before starting full days for the rest of the school year.”International schools often place a strong emphasis on parent groups who play a key role in helping families to settle into the new community.The Parent Support Organization (PSO) at Concordia International School involves parents intrinsically in daily school life, pairs new families and organises events. The York School has a similar organisation that Mr Muruganandan emphasises the importance of.“Families moving to Toronto for the first time will find the York International Parents (YIP) group an invaluable resource for orienting families to the country, city and school,” he says. “YIP supports families’ transition to life in Toronto – working to support parents as well as students to build valuable social connections and provide practical information.“The school also has a Student Citizenship team that works with the Admission team to support the students and families’ transition – helping them to build relationships before the first day of school. This has proven to be a huge benefit to all in supporting a healthy transition.” There is no doubt that moving children between schools is one of the most stressful parts of any relocation, and moving in-year comes with a unique set of difficulties. However, a good school will be able to help families through the challenges.
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