How to change your child's school

Children in primary school
Not all children stay at the same primary school from Reception until Year 6. We look at the ins and outs of transferring your child to a new school.

Many children face moving from one primary school to another at some stage of their journey through education. It can be a positive step, but also a challenging one, and every parent facing the change wants to make sure it’s as stress-free as possible.

So how do you know if it’s right for your child to move to a new school, and how do you go about arranging it?

Why move your child to a new school?

There are many reasons why you might want – or need – to move your child to a different primary school. Sometimes, there’s a practical reason: perhaps you’re moving house, or have a family member in the armed forces who’s being deployed to a different area. You might have children in different schools and want to have them all in the same place, or be taking advantage of a place at a new school that has just opened in your area. You may have been forced to accept a place at a school that you didn’t want your child to attend, but been offered a space at your preferred school later in the year, having remained on the waiting list.

Often, there’s an emotional reason for moving your child to a new school. Sadly, unresolved bullying is one of the most common causes of children changing schools. Sometimes, parents simply feel that the school isn’t meeting their child’s needs – whether these are academic, social, physical or behavioural – and think another school would be a better match.

The decision can sometimes be motivated by finances, too – for instance, if your circumstances change and you need to move your child from a private school to a state school, or vice versa.

Is it right to change your child’s school?

Sometimes, moving school is inevitable – if you’re moving a long way away, for example. But if you’re considering a move because of a problem at the current school, it’s important to try to resolve it first. ‘Although schools have their differences, they are broadly similar, and often, children who move schools face similar problems in their new school,’ says child psychologist Claire Halsey.

If you’re having problems with the current school – whether that’s bullying or concerns about your child’s progress – trying to deal with them could help to avoid a potentially unsettling move. ‘If the issues can’t be resolved by speaking to the class teacher, you can escalate it to the headteacher, governors and, if you’re still not satisfied, the local authority,’ Claire says.

If your child has special needs that you think are being overlooked, you can get support from Information Advice Support Services (IASS: formerly known as Parent Partnership). There’s an IASS in every local authority, offering free, confidential advice.

Involving your child in the decision to move schools

In some cases, such as if you’re moving house, the decision to move schools is non-negotiable – but it’s still important to make your child feel involved, in an age-appropriate way. ‘In this case, being straightforward is best, without giving your child any impression that there’s a choice,’ Claire advises. ‘Set out all the things you’ve planned to make it a smooth transition, and be open about the positives of moving, such as new friendships. Don’t skirt away from discussing what might worry them, but make plenty of time to listen and understand their viewpoint.’

If your child is the one who’s keen to move schools, for instance if they’re being bullied, taking their opinion into account is important, but you need to make sure they understand that changing school isn’t necessarily the easier option. ‘Talk to them about the problems they’re having and about what has been, and could be, done to resolve them,’ says Claire. ‘It may be that your child is convinced that moving is the right thing, but it’s a big decision: integrating into a new social and educational setting is usually more difficult than children imagine, particularly mid-year when friendship groups are established.’

Ultimately, you have the final say in whether your child should change schools, but you can involve their teachers and other people such as the headteacher, support staff and the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) to help you decide. Make sure your child knows that chopping and changing is not an option: they won’t necessarily be able to move back if they don’t like their new school.

Choosing the right new school

When you’re looking at new schools for your child, you’ll need to go through a similar process to when you were applying for Reception places. However, you won’t have the benefit of organised school tours or open days, so you’ll need to contact the headteacher and arrange a time to visit.

First things first: make sure the school has a place available in the year group that your child will be joining. Looking at schools that are full and have long waiting lists is likely to be a waste of time.

You can use the schools’ websites and Ofsted reports to help inform your decision, but it’s also useful to speak to the teachers, headteacher and other parents of children at the school, and to visit in person to get a sense of the atmosphere and ethos.

If your child is moving because of a problem at their current school, make sure you find out how a similar situation would be handled by the potential new school. ‘Look at relevant policies and check in person how they are applied – especially the bullying policy, if this has been an issue for your child,’ Claire says.

You can also look at whether there are opportunities for your child to develop their strengths and interests. For example, if they’re keen on music and drama, you might look for a school that has a strong interest in performing arts, with the curriculum and after-school clubs reflecting this.

In-year admission: how to make the move

Moving your child from one school to another is known as an in-year admission. You’ll need to contact the local authority to find out about their in-year admission arrangements. Often, this can be done online through the local authority’s website, particularly for maintained schools. However, you may have to apply direct to the school if it’s a free school, academy, voluntary-aided or voluntary-controlled school.

You’ll have to provide information that confirms you’re living in the school’s catchment area: usually two pieces of documentation showing your full address. Bear in mind that some schools have additional admission requirements, such as church attendance. If you’ve been attending a church in another area, you might be asked for evidence such as a letter from the vicar.

Having been allocated a place at the new school, you’ll need to make arrangements with the new headteacher about when your child will start. Once this has been confirmed, you can officially deregister your child from their current school by writing to the headteacher. You can then begin the process of settling your child into their new school.