Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Finding the right School

Anyone who has moved to a new country, is more often than not fraught with mixed emotions, even more so if you have children. For the majority of parents making the move, the reason in large, is to secure a better future for our children.

Even with that in mind, it can be overwhelming for a family to move halfway across the world, away from friends, family, support systems and everything familiar. Therefore, whether your child is fifteen or three year’s old, one of the top if not most important priority for parents is finding a school where their children will be happy, secure and thrive academically and socially.

Finding the right school for your family can seem a daunting task, hopefully, some of the below information will help you to navigate the schooling system, answer some questions and make the transition period easier for your family.

To start it is important to note that the school year in the UK doesn’t run a calendar year as in South Africa, but starts in September and finishes about three quarters through July. This is then followed by roughly a six-week Summer holiday before the new school year starts again the beginning of September.

In SA we would refer to Reception, Grade 1 and Grade 2 etc, in the UK it is referred to as Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 etc. You will need to establish in which Year group your child will be placed, as this may differ from SA depending in which month of the year they were born. You might very well find that siblings that in SA, for example, were in Reception and Grade 2 are now in Year 1 and Year 2 because of the September start.

It is also important to take note, specifically for younger children that most children in the UK start school full-time in September after they turn 4 at which age they are taught phonics. Therefore for younger children, there might be a bit more of a prominent gap in things such as phonics as Children in SA would start to learn their phonic in Grade R (the Year they turn 6).

For younger children still trying to build their educational foundation it is so important to their schooling career, that they be given the correct support to catch up and build a strong foundation. It is very rare for children in the UK to be kept back or repeat a year.

Children who are 3 and 4 years old can receive 15 hours of free childcare a week. This can be quiet confusing, follow the link below for more detailed information. https://www.gov.uk/schools-admissions/school-starting-age. Schools also provide free school meals for children in reception, Year1 and Year2.

Once you have put down roots the next step is to find a school. As in South Africa, there are Private and State (government) Schools.
Private schools in the UK are very expensive and not an expense many can afford. In 2017, the average annual cost for private schooling was £14,102 for day school and £32,259 for boarding school per year, per child. If you are fortunate enough to be in a position that Private Schooling is an option you can apply directly to the school.

State schools, the UK offers free schooling for all children between the ages of 5 and 16. Many state schools in the UK are equally as good if not better than some private schools in South Africa. To find out which state schools in your area have space you could either phone each school directly or call your local council and they will be able to provide you with a list of schools that could accommodate your child/children.

Admissions for the majority of state schools are done centrally through the local council and not the school itself, you apply for placement using your council’s application form. You would generally then put down your first three top choices of schools.

An interesting nugget of info to keep in mind and which we came about by chance is that some state schools choose to handle their own admissions. These schools will therefore not appear on the list of schools that your local council would provide you. I have a sneaking suspicion the reason for this is that the schools have slightly more control in who they accept. These state schools can be found by doing a Google search of schools in your area and cross-check it against the Councils list.

If you have more than one child it may sometimes, not always, be difficult to find a school that can accommodate both. You might therefore have no choice if you wanted to keep them in the same school to travel further out of your original search area to a school that can accommodate or you could choose to place them in different schools and then to put one child’s name on a waiting list for whichever school you prefer. If you do put a child on a waiting list and they have a sibling in the school they automatically move to the top of the list. https://www.gov.uk/schools-admissions

While doing research on schools you will often hear the word Ofsted mentioned. In the UK schools are rated by Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). This is an organisation that monitors standards in schools by regular inspection, there are four Ofsted ratings. 1 = Outstanding and 4 = inadequate. Even though this a great way to check the standard at schools it is important to keep in mind the date on which some of the Ofsted report were done, some of these reports could be four years old. A lot could have changed, for the better or worse, can occur in four years. time.   https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/

Even once you know which school could accommodate your children, for most of us choosing the right school can seem a mammoth task as we have no previous knowledge of the schools in our new area, their reputation, and more often than not we don’t know anyone with personal knowledge of a specific school. As with any country, you will always come across some schools that are ‘less appealing’ than others.

We cannot stress enough the importance of visiting schools yourself, to get a feel for how they run and if they could likely be a fit for your family.

SAFFA Moms and Local Mom Facebook groups are a great way to get other parent’s opinions on schools in your area. Ask! Don’t be shy to ask a neighbour, doctor or the local cashier at your store their opinions on schools in the area.

Feeling at ease and happy at school could only better the start to the journey of their lives in the UK, and soon have them correcting you when you ask them to put on their jersey and takkies, that they are in fact called a jumper and trainers.

Also check out this website for more information on schools around the uk. www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk

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