Exploring new places, learning new languages, and making worldwide friendships are things that make an expatriate experience great for families. At the same time, relocation to a foreign country also entails a variety of challenges for families; one of the most stressful of which is to find the right school for their children. For families that have children with Special Education Needs (SEN), a transition to a new school can be especially difficult.
Over the past twenty years of working with children and families with non-traditional educational needs, I have learned that the success of a school transition is largely dependent on two factors: relevant, up-to-date information about the child, and proactive communication between the family and the school.
Communication is Key
A successful school placement begins with a simple concept: ask for what you need. It is important to be just as clear about these requirements as you would be when speaking to a relocation agent about a new house. Any specific requirements or wishes for your new school, and your child’s educational and social-emotional needs, should be clearly documented and communicated.
Many parents of children with SEN fear that being transparent with the school about their child’s needs could lead to a rejection of their school application. For this reason, and with the best intentions in mind, parents sometimes withhold information from the school during the application process. Without knowing what to expect, the school is then ill-equipped to provide the appropriate level of support for the child.
I recently worked with an expatriate family that had a child with mild autism. During the application process, two report cards were the only background information given to the new school about the child: the child’s day-to-day classroom needs were not communicated to the school. The child’s application was accepted without any further documentation or testing. After arriving at the new school, the child had to undergo a disruptive “getting to know you” phase, instead of having a bespoke program in place that would have been ready for the child on the first day.
Another pitfall is providing the school with irrelevant or out-of-date information. In a different case, a family submitted a 300-page dossier to the school which detailed every aspect of their child’s educational testing. However, the test results were over 10 years old. Because of the age, format, and sheer volume of information, the school was not able to gain any usable insights about how best to work with the child.
Gather the Right Information
It is important to gather vital information prior to the application process. Typically, schools ask for testing results from the past three years. It is in the best interest of your child to provide testing information, even if your school has not specifically requested it. The learning support staff at the new school will be grateful.
Assembling a snapshot of your child’s day-to-day needs will also help to ensure a positive transition. It is not possible for you to know every facet of your child’s school day; however, your child’s classroom teacher, SEN teacher, and teachers of elective subjects such as PE or Music can provide a comprehensive account. The following questions may be useful:
* How do you best connect with my child?
* What are my child’s social/educational strengths and weaknesses?
* What educational strategies work best for my child?
* What modifications/accommodations help my child to perform his/her best?
* How does my child handle unstructured situations?
Based on my clients’ experiences, presenting information during the first point of contact starts the relationship off on the right foot. During these first conversations, mention that you have relevant and current test results, as well as the perspectives of teachers from the current school. Not only will the school be thrilled to have this information, but it will also serve to accelerate the process of deciding whether the school is the right fit for your child.
Being an effective advocate for your child includes collecting relevant information and presenting it to all possible schools. I advise my clients that it is much better to be rejected before the school year starts, instead of receiving a rejection six months into the school year. If one school is unable to meet your child’s needs, it is in the best interest of your child to find a different one. Receiving a rejection should not be regarded as a failure, but instead as a normal part of the process in finding a school that is the best fit for your child.
There is a place for most students in the international school system, but it can be a challenge to find the right fit. By collecting and presenting relevant and up-to-date information on your child’s academic and social-emotional needs, the chances of creating a positive transition are accelerated.
About the Author: April Remfrey is a 20-year veteran of teaching students with special needs. April works with families transitioning from one school to another in order to gather and analyze the essential information to create an appropriate decision making framework for both the school and family regarding admissions, placement and planning for students who may need extra support. www.remfreyeducationalconsulting.com
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