How to tell it’s time for your child to move schools

Should you take your child’s complaints about school seriously? Here are the red flags that can help you decide whether they should stay or move.

Your relationship with your child’s school is a relationship like any other ­– sometimes, no matter how difficult the process, the right thing to do is part ways.

But how do you decide when to stay put (kids need to learn resilience, right?), or hit reset at a new school to protect your child’s mental health or academic potential?

Why moving schools is an individual decision

Melbourne psychologist Carly Dober says the decision to switch schools or not really is a case-by-case scenario.

“Some kids have a bad year or couple of years before they find their friendship group, or even start enjoying the things that the school has to offer, and they bounce back really quickly,” Carly says.

“Then there are those kids who are utterly miserable and it impacts their mental health and wellbeing to the point that a move really is necessary, and that might become evident after just one term.”

For Quirky Kids developmental psychologist Dr Kimberley O’Brien, whose own child moved schools after ongoing bullying, the time to make a decision is when you can clearly see the decline in your child.

“If there are frequent emotional meltdowns or they stop talking, it’s definitely time to research other options,” Dr O’Brien says.

Signs it may be time to move schools

Personality changes

Does your child become quiet and withdrawn on Sundays?

Are they moody and argumentative towards the end of holidays? School could be the culprit.

“Our child went from being super sporty and academically engaged to dreading school and feeling really targeted there,” Dr O’Brien says.

“But in the school holidays, we’d see a more positive attitude, more sleep, a huge appetite and more laughter.

“Then things would spiral again when school started, so we knew it was school-related.”

Teaching concerns

Worried your child is not being stretched enough (or being challenged too much)?

Are they consistently being taught in a way that doesn’t support their kind of learning?

“The teaching criteria at your current school may not be the right fit for your child,” Carly says.

“If you’ve met with teachers and administration and tried to make it work without success, it might be that your child will fare better in a different learning environment.”

Broken trust

Do you trust that the school is taking your concerns seriously?

For example, is it collaborating with you to better support your child’s school experience or to resolve a critical issue such as bullying?

“Not replying to our emails … that was the breaking point for us,” Dr O’Brien says.

“There’s a loss of faith when it doesn’t matter how many ideas you come up with to address the issue, (and) you know that nothing is really going to change because the school is unable to confidently confront your situation.”

Being 14 author Madonna King acknowledges schools are busy places, “but if your emails are going unanswered or if the overall tone with regards to your knowledge of your child is dismissive, that would be a red flag for me”.

Irrelevant subjects

Dr O’Brien says if your child is feeling “deeply uninspired” by their current school, it might be the starting point for a calm conversation about moving.

“Research your options and be informed about what other schools are offering,” she suggests.

Carly says a lot of kids are not interested in being a lawyer or doctor and if they are being too pressured, it can affect their wellbeing.

“Conversely, if they do have high goals and there isn’t that kind of subject offering, that can be very disempowering as well,” she says.

Your child feels unrepresented

The dominant image that a school projects can have a huge impact on your child’s wellbeing – especially if your child feels out of step for reasons of gender, race or ability.

“It can be really difficult if there isn’t a spirit of openness, inclusion and diversity among the people your child interacts with daily,” Carly says.

“Ultimately, it’s a sign that ‘you aren’t one of us’ and, without intervention, it could affect your child’s confidence and self-worth or lead to social anxiety.”

Don’t rush your decision to move schools

Always try to resolve problems before making a snap decision, and flag your issues with the teaching support team as soon as possible, the experts say.

“There are interim steps you can take first, such as moving class or adopting individual learning plans, or joining activity clubs outside the classroom,” Carly says.

Dr O’Brien adds: “There should be at least three incidents that you’ve tried to resolve by checking in regularly to see if the school has followed through on what they said they’d do.

“If things still haven’t changed, you’ll know you’ve done everything you can.”

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Written by Amanda Dardanis.