Susan Hamlyn, director emerita at The Good Schools Guide, advises on educational predicaments.
Our children are 8 and 10 and at the local primary. Our plan was to try for independent schools at 11 for both of them. However, we now have the opportunity to spend two years (minimum) in the US and are having a terrible time trying to decide. I don’t want to jeopardise their schooling or set up problems for later. On the other hand it does seem an exciting chance to experience something completely different. Can you help?
I agree – it’s an exciting chance and it would be a shame to miss it. Much depends, I would say, on where in the US you would be and the quality of schools there. As here, this can be very variable. At its best – for example, in many parts of New York state – there are some wonderful free schools, offering opportunities of all kinds that few schools here can match. The school culture can be rather different from here – freer, more egalitarian – far more calling out in class etc - and the children learn that they are judged by their contribution to class discussion as much as on their written work. It can be a bit of a shock when they re-enter our rather more structured and ordered classrooms! So, I would suggest that you do some homework on where you will live and the reputations of the likely local schools.
The more you do before you leave – and while you are away – to investigate, establish relations with and keep in touch with the school(s) you want for your children back here, the likelier it is that they will have places when you return. If possible, go and meet the heads of schools you like before you go, let them meet and, if need be, test the children. It would be wise to keep in touch with the curriculum here – especially in the “building subjects” eg languages so that the children can easily slot back in. Your schools back here should be keen to help with this – or a good tutor company can support the children while you’re away.
There will inevitably be teething troubles both when you get to the US and when you return but, with luck and good management, it could provide you all with a broadening and memorable two years.
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