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By Sarah Frei, Brillantmont International School

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The autumn holidays are already upon us and by now most children are nicely settled back into the school routine. Yet, there may be some children for whom, despite the best efforts of their teachers and their family, the start of a new school year has brought heartache. Perhaps the decision to relocate to Switzerland was a last-minute one, resulting in hastily-made decisions, based on spaces available rather than a real feeling of connection with the school. Perhaps there are other more complex questions of friendships and peer integration at play, which are having a negative impact on your child.

Everyone has their child’s happiness at heart, so whilst deciding to change schools might be a daunting task, it is not impossible. It may mean losing a school year, but is that such a big deal in the long-term? For those faced with this dilemna or for others in a less urgent situation, here are a few tips to help you choose the right school for your child.

1. Define your criteria…but don’t be blinkered
Depending on your child’s educational background , programme studied so far and future plans, you may already have eliminated a few schools from your list. However, do keep an open mind as plans can change and there may be lesser-known qualifications out there which would be a great fit for your child. It is worth going to see one or two of these « outsider » schools, to widen your options or at least, to confirm your original choices.

2. Get to know the school
These days, everyone is image conscious and most schools have websites that make us parents want to go back to school right now ! It sounds obvious but the way to get to know a school is to spend time there. Not taking the time to find the right school for your child now, could cost more time in the long term. Ideally, a visit should be more than just a half-hour tour. It shouldn’t just show you the school facilities ; you should meet someone in charge of the academic programmes and have the opportunity to meet some students… in private. It goes without saying that your child should be part of this visit !

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3. Spend a day in school
Many schools offer the possibility of spending one or two days in school following classes with someone of your child’s age. What better way to get a feel not only for the academic demands of the programme, but also to pick up on the atmosphere, the staff-student relationships and the feel of the school ?

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Your child is bound to be nervous visiting a school and meeting new people, so take the time beforehand to prepare a list of questions. Maybe your child’s burning question is giving him some sleepless nights, so don’t dismiss it, however trivial it may seem. It is important that you leave a school feeling that everyone’s questions have been answered.

5. Speak to current families
Nothing beats personal recommendation so contact current families to hear what they have to say. Many schools are happy to pass on contact details to you.

6. Remember ;  your child is unique
Not everyone who tries on the same dress will be happy with how it looks. One size does not fit all. The same applies to schools. Your child has his own talents, his own favourite subjects and pet hates and his own quirks. You know your child and you have to put his well-being first because a happy well-integrated child will go on to thrive.Think seriously about the kind of environment that the school offers. If your child is more reserved, perhaps he would be better-off in a smaller school, which is less intimidating.

7. School values and philosophy
We all know the saying,  „all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy“. A good school should offer your child not only a challenging academic programme but also the opportunity for self-development through sports and extra-curricular activities.
The emphasis that a school gives to these aspects of the curriculum is very much tied up in the school’s values and philosophy. Every school has its own identity, its own mission statement. How do you as a family recognise yourself therein ?

Hopefully, whatever your time-scale, these tips have given you some food for thought. Useful starting points in the region include :

The Private Schools Association of the Canton of Vaud http://www.avdep.ch
The Private Schools Association of Geneva: http://www.agep.ch


Sarah frei webSarah Frei comes from England. After a BA at UCL followed by an MA at Exeter University, she headed to multilingual Switzerland to put her language skills to use.

In her many years at Brillantmont International School, a day and boarding school in Lausanne with a British IGCSE /A Level programme and an American High School programme for 11-18 year olds, Sarah‘s roles have considerably evolved, to reflect the fast-moving world in which we live. She started out teaching English language and literature before becoming Head of Marketing and Communication.

Sarah is responsible for all marketing, branding, communication and school events and also looks after the 4000-strong alumni network.

She is excited by the opportunities created by technology not only to communicate with the multicultural, far-flung school community but also to share knowledge and experiences about educational practice. At the heart of all those activities lies the driving force – the desire for each child to develop their full potential.