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Changing schools during GCSE years

Once your child hits 14, moving schools in the British system becomes more challenging because GCSE qualifications are taught over the course of two years.

Typically parents are able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of moving schools with their children, whether locally or globally, and with good support and encouragement children reap the rewards of making new friends and learning about a new environment.  However, what are the restrictions when it comes to the two school years which lead up to the completion of GCSE exams?  New jobs or opportunities which require a family to move don’t always fit within the timeframe of academic years, and it may be necessary to move in the middle of a school year, or when just one year of the GCSE courses has been completed.  Once a child has started Year 10 in the British system, the beginning of GCSEs, is it ever possible for them to move schools without disruption?

Naturally, international schools have plenty of experience of this question, with expats of all nationalities arriving and departing at different times of the year, and at different stages of their children’s education. As Jo Newton, IGCSE Co-Ordinator at the British International School in Phuket, Thailand, says, “International schools understand that parents are not completely in control of timing due to the nature of their jobs and will do all that they can to help make the transition as smooth as possible.”

"There is almost sure to be work which your child will need to catch up on should you move them to a different school during this period..."

With different exam boards and teaching schemes involved in the GCSE exam system, there is almost sure to be work which your child will need to catch up on should you move them to a different school during this period.  Jo explains, “Whilst many International Schools do the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) programme, they do not all complete topics in the same order or at the same rate, so when a child arrives part way through the course, they will inevitably have gaps in their knowledge. Also, GCSEs in the UK differ from IGCSEs so if a child was moving from the UK to an International School, it would perhaps be a more complex transition than between schools which both follow IGCSEs.”

However, schools are usually very accommodating and do everything they can to support students.  “At BISP the Sciences are the biggest problem,” says Jo. “We actually start teaching the IGCSE content from the beginning of Year 9, so a student arriving later will be further behind in Science than for other subjects. To counter this, we have an after-school activity covering all the Year 9 topics for students who missed them as a ‘catch-up’ class.

Extra lessons can quickly bring students up to speed

Extra lessons can quickly bring students up to speed

Tailored help from teachers is usually available

Tailored help from teachers is usually available

“For students arriving in Year 11, we often suggest that they take fewer subjects than the typical student at BISP, to give them some self-study slots on their timetable.”  This kind of flexible approach, including letting a student re-start Year 10, can be very helpful to families and students for whom GCSE grades are vitally important.  At BISP the staff will consult with parents and often suggest a student re-starts Year 10, especially if English is not their native language or if they a little further behind with their learning in general. If a child is already at the younger end of the age range, then that extra year will have little impact on their future but might improve their chance of higher grades. Most international schools recognise that starting afresh removes much of the problem of trying to catch up and alleviates stress, and they don’t find it necessary to stick rigidly to age-based year groups.

“Higher grades will mean more opportunities in the future, so re-starting Year 10 can be the most sensible option,” says Jo. “At BISP we frequently have children of different ages in the same year group and it doesn’t affect friendship groups. Age does not seem to be a big issue for the students.”

As long as parents are willing to be open-minded about which approach will be best for their child, and supportive if there is extra work to be done, a transition during the GCSE years need not be overwhelming or impossible.  Young people at this stage in their lives are increasingly self-directed, and their own preferences and instincts about what will be best for them are very useful to take into consideration.  A motivated child with supportive parents, and a school which understands the potential gaps that need to be filled will no doubt thrive in his or her new environment.

Moving schools during Year 10 - A parent's story

Rebecca Phillip’s daughter moved from one school to another two thirds of the way through Year 10.  She spoke to Winter’s about the process.

Having spent three fairly happy years at her secondary school, my daughter Molly found that she had grown apart from friends she’d made when she first arrived there, and had met girls she had much more in common with who were at another local school. 

"Young people at this stage in their lives are increasingly self-directed..."

"Young people at this stage in their lives are increasingly self-directed..."

As parents we were increasingly dissatisfied with Molly’s new head teacher, and the school was not making the improvements he had initially promised (and which were very much required).  Rallying behind the school and our daughter, though, we hoped the beginning of Year 10 would signal an improvement.  New subjects, a change of teachers, perhaps meeting some new faces; rather than give up on the school, we encouraged Molly to persist. 

After February half term of Year 10 it was clear we’d made a mistake and the wheels were falling off.   Nothing had improved and, just as the challenges of GCSEs were beginning, our daughter was losing faith in the school and herself.  She felt isolated and began to give up on some subjects.

The thing which saved us was a friend, formerly a secondary science teacher, who, when I said, ‘We can’t move her - she’s half way through her first GCSE year!” said, “Of course you can.”  She utterly reassured us that it wasn’t too late at all, that it was perfectly possible to make a transition if we wanted to, and that the work-load would be manageable.  When I approached the alternative school about Molly joining them, they didn’t bat an eyelid at the idea of accepting a new student mid-Year 10.  This encouraged me further and we started the process. By Easter of Year 10 there was a place available at our preferred school and Molly made the change.

I can honestly say it was the best thing we’ve ever done.  Before, we were looking at a disengaged teenager who was beginning to feel very alone and resentful of school before, but then the fresh start with good friends on hand transformed things.  There has been an increased work load as Molly catches up with new subjects, or different exam boards in subjects she was already studying, but with a little help from the school at lunchtimes and some decent revision guides, there’s nothing insurmountable.  Even if there are some academic disadvantages to making the move at the time she did, the advantages of having a daughter who is happy, engaged, and motivated about school more than make up for them.

ImagesBritish International School, Phuket (BISP)

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