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When school wants a divorce

School girld expelled from schoolEvery year more than a few children are asked to leave their fee-paying school prematurely.

We’re not talking about the kids who flash their knickers on Facebook, attempt to assassinate the science teacher, or sell ‘black’ for bucks. No, invariably it’s the ones with learning difficulties or social problems, whose results may cause the school to tumble down the league tables or whose learning needs challenge the limitations of ‘run-of the mill’ teachers.

What makes this all the harder to swallow is looking back at the way they greeted you with open arms when you first set foot through the door and promised the earth, now it seems they want you to look at the stars but well away from their premises...

The honeymoon period

Those lucky enough to find the fees for the independent sector (even if that means an end to new cars, holidays and cappuccinos) choose a school in the hope that, based on their oft comprehensive and exhaustive homework, a long and happy marriage will result.

Agonising over schools has, in parts of the country, become a national pastime; with for some, research starting prior to conception!

Spending days, months even years pouring over glossy brochures, moving to the ‘right’ area will, you hope, pay dividends. For a time it invariably does. Jenny loves the place, makes friends, enjoys going to school.

Muddling along or moving out?

Jenny is not top of the class, but then again, she is surrounded by bright sparks and you did forewarn the school about problems with spelling and reading – all of which they promised to ‘sort out’.

Two years down the line, often when senior school selection looms, the head has a quiet word: ‘perhaps it’s time for you to look elsewhere as it doesn't look like Jenny will make the grade.’ Strange, because initially you were told entry from the junior to the senior was ‘more-or-less’ automatic. One distraught parent said,

 ‘My daughter was devastated; we deliberately chose a school where she could stay until she was 18, or so we thought. ‘She will be destroyed if she has to leave. All her friends, her social life, everything revolves round school: I am not sure she will ever recover. What's more, so much of our social life is based there too, we'll feel bereft.’

Sentiments of one parent echoed by hundreds of others who find themselves in this situation.

Why a divorce? 

Often it occurs where an associated senior school takes the majority of children from the junior school, but makes no absolute guarantee to take all. Sometimes, it’s simply that the school doesn't think the child can cope, or no-longer suits the environment.

Schools are businesses. Many are protective of league table positions, a good many more know they are out of their depth with children who may turn out to be atypical learners; having neither the expertise, nor wherewithal to help. Moreover why bother with the ones that struggle, when they can fill their desks with easy-to-teach, high achievers?

Can there be a happy ever after?

  • Isn't it better to seek out a school that can teach your child, rather than one that will merely occupy him?
  • If your child is failing to keep up, an early move might be desirable with a premature change, preferable to a life-time of regrets.
  • If a school does not want your child, do you really want them?
  • Be positive, use your experiences to uncover a school that will work with talents and diminish weaknesses.
  • Any school worth its salt should give ample warning that a child isn't reaching the standard they expect. Good schools will look inward to see how they can improve things for the child. At a minimum, they should put in place support strategies or suggest professional assessment, if deemed necessary.
  • Expect to pay extra for additional small groups, or one-to-one tuition, and any formal assessments, particularly where specialist outside help is brought (and therefore bought) in. If a school genuinely has a child's interests at heart and things really are not working out, divorce should be an amicable affair.

The settlement

Sorting out the finances. As a parent you usually have to give at least one term’s notice to the school of your intention to leave (or fees in lieu). School should feel similarly obliged, unless of course Kit has badly blotted his copybook.

Remaining on speaking terms you may find it difficult to keep communication channels open and amicable but try to, for the sake of your child. It can take time to find a suitable school, particularly if your child has additional learning or support needs and, once found, you may have to wait for a place to become available. 

Finding a new partner. Your current school may well be able to suggest suitable alternatives; they'll almost certainly be asked by any onward school to provide a reference supporting your child's application. A good school will work with you to help your child not only cope with, but look forward to, the change. 

Don't fight. How ever hurt you feel, hold back the venom, at least until a settlement is reached. Slating off the school, and those in it, will not help you or your child maintain those all important friendships. If things are seriously amiss and you feel genuinely aggrieved speak to governors; follow any complaints procedures, and tell the Good Schools Guide so we can forewarn others.

Try to avoid having your day in court. As a final recourse, if you think the school has been negligent or failing in its duty, you may wish to engage the services of the legal profession. This can be a lengthy and expensive process.

Scholarships and Bursary Advice

The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants now holds a unique central source of information on scholarships and bursaries. You may have a gifted child but limited finances. You may want a confidential discussion before going to individual schools to find out what they may be able to offer you. Read more about our Scholarships and Bursaries help.

 

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