Everyone wants the business of starting in a new school to be as smooth, quick and painless as possible, especially if it’s also in a new country. Pupils want to meet their new classmates and teachers and make friends as soon as they can, while parents want to feel reassured that they have made the right decision and that their child will be happy and flourish in their new environment, so they can stop worrying!
Schools also want joining a new learning environment to be a positive experience for all concerned. They want to get to know you and your child, to welcome you into the community and to be able to get on with the business of helping pupils to learn as soon as they can. So while different schools in different countries with different systems might all have their own registration, enrollment and induction procedures, each with their own particular idiosyncrasies, there is nevertheless one constant, one thing that any school wants about their new starters, wherever in the world that school is – everyone wants information.
Therefore, you can really help your new school simply by giving them as much information about your child as you possibly can. You might think that schools are only interested in dry, academic documentation. Of course this is important, but schools are about so much more than this and, as a consequence, they value and appreciate information from as wide a variety of sources as possible. It might seem irrelevant, unimportant or even silly, but you’d be surprised at what schools can make out of seemingly unpromising material.
What Do Schools Want to Know?
School reports vary markedly around the world, depending on factors such as whether the school is in the independent or maintained sector, the style of curriculum and assessment, the frequency of the reports and a host of other things besides. It may be that the school reports you have are familiar to us, or they may represent a new variation on a theme that your new school have not encountered before. Don’t worry – whatever the format, a school report will always provide useful information and therefore you should provide your new school with all the reports you have, not only the most recent ones. A range of reports over a number of years allows a school to see the ways in which a pupil has developed and gives them some idea as to what might be to come.
Your previous schools may also have provided you with other documentation, and it’s useful for your new schools to see that too. These documents might include: standardized test scores; CAT scores (cognitive ability test); educational psychologist reports; speech or occupational therapy reports; reading age scores. These and similar documents will always be useful, as they help us to make sure we are setting the right targets for new pupils and challenging them appropriately right from the beginning.
However, other seemingly less significant material is also of use. Small academic prizes might not in themselves demonstrate the direction of a pupil’s future career, but they nevertheless help a new school build up a more complete picture of that pupil as quickly as possible. Therefore, don’t underestimate the value of that Year 3 award for spelling, or that teacher’s commendation for a project, or that prize for memorizing times tables – they all help us to understand your child’s overall approach to school, the pride they take in their work and their ability to do well under pressure or under test conditions. Knowing this information can sometimes save a school a lot of time in getting to know just where your child’s particular strengths are.
All schools, and international schools in particular, place a good deal of emphasis on helping pupils to understand the importance of engaging with the community, learning about social responsibility and tackling difficult questions about how the wider world works. Therefore, it is extremely helpful to know the level to which pupils have previously been engaged in addressing these and other related issues.
For older students, schools value very highly pupils who have taken part in the International Award (known as the Duke of Edinburgh Award in the UK), as it means that they are already on the way to having an understanding of the importance of civic responsibility. Likewise, pupils who have previously been involved in Model United Nations will possess a degree of political and social understanding that sets them apart from their peers. Therefore, this is information that your new school will definitely want to know about and will be useful in establishing the right sort of expectations from the outset.
In the case of younger pupils, involvement in organizations such as Boy Scouts or Cubs, Girl Guides or Brownies, army, navy or air force cadets, European Youth Forum, Rotary International, Junior Chamber International, Raleigh International or any similar organisation is also valued highly. If your child has been involved in a group or organisation of this nature, your new school will undoubtedly want to hear about it. It is also useful if your child can speak enthusiastically about their involvement and what they think they learned from the experience.
However, it isn’t always necessary to have a certificate or badge to demonstrate the level of engagement. If your child has been involved in any sort of charity or community project, whether at their previous school or through an outside agency, encourage them to talk about it and describe the sort of work they did and what they felt the benefits were – this is the sort of conversation that principals love to have with prospective pupils and families, and that will really help your new school welcome you into its community.
A lot of the school sport in international schools is of an extremely high standard and very competitive, and so principals are always keen to hear about new pupils’ sporting skills and exploits. Therefore, this is an area where it’s useful to provide as much documentation and physical evidence as you can.
If your child has earned medals, certificates, ribbons or badges for any sort of sporting event then it’s always a good idea to bring them along to an interview or meeting. Have they set a school or district record? Been involved in a championship winning team? Won a gold medal? Been selected to represent their county, state or country? Achievements like these are things to be proud of and shared, and you should encourage your child to talk confidently about their favourite sport and discuss their achievements as maturely as possible.
However, people don’t have to be an expert or a champion, or even especially skilled, to enjoy sport; it doesn’t matter at which level your child has competed or if they have ever been a gold medalist; the very fact that they enjoy and take part in a sport will be important to their new school, and so they should feel comfortable discussing what it is that they like about their sport, and why.
There are as many extracurricular activities to potentially talk about as there are pupils in the world, so no matter what your child’s into, tell your new school about it! There are formal activities from which you may have supporting, documentary material (it’s helpful to collate this and be prepared to present it during an interview or meeting), or there are smaller-scale activities organised on a much more casual basis. In either case, it’s really helpful if your child feels secure and confident enough to be able to talk about them.
They may be a musician who has completed grade examinations (the universal standard for describing competence and confidence on an instrument); they can show your new school the pieces of music they’re working on now to give them a good understanding of their level so they can be matched up with the right teachers and fellow musicians. They may have been in an orchestra or ensemble at their old school, in which case it is really useful if they can talk about the pieces they played and their composers, as well as describe their role in the group. Or perhaps they were in a band – again, it helps if they’re able to talk about the type of music they play, and discuss their influences and the other sorts of music that they like.
There are so many other fascinating things out there that people are interested in, and likewise so many fascinating things that we are interested in hearing your child talk about. Maybe they can speak other languages. Are into mountain climbing. Have an unusual pet. Have traveled to exotic locations. Have met someone famous. Collect antique coins. Like going to the theatre. Spent some time in hospital. Are part of a large family. Anything! Whatever it is, hearing them talk about it will help your new school to understand the sort of person and pupil they’re going to be.
Therefore, perhaps the most important thing when your child meets people at their new school is that they know how to talk about what interests them. Can they explain when they first became interested in mountain climbing? What is the most valuable coin in their collection? Why do they like to travel? What is the play they have most enjoyed? Their aim should be to share with a new school their knowledge, understanding and passion for their hobbies and interests, so that the school can get a good idea of what makes them tick. It is this understanding that will help teachers involve your child in the activities they love where they will meet others with the same interests.
In the end, you really can’t be too prepared when your child is applying to a new school:
• Get as many documents together as you can, even if they seem unimportant or trivial.
• Get your child ready to show off their sporting medals and ribbons.
• Think about the way in which your child presents him- or herself, and make sure that they’re confident talking about and answering questions about their interests.
Doing all of this will help the school to get to know your child as quickly as they can, and then everyone – him or her included – can get straight down to the serious business of really enjoying the new school.