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How to know when a school isn't working for you

Expert advice and insights into assessing whether a school or learning environment is working for your child

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We provide all the information you need on choosing a school on OurKids.net. Here we focus on how to know that a school isn’t working. We asked education experts to weigh in on this question. What follows are numerous valuable insights.

For expert advice on a wide range of questions related to choosing a school, read our comprehensive choosing guide. You can also read our parent interviews on choosing a school, as well as our in-depth advice guide on getting into a private school.

On how to know when a school isn’t working

Sometimes schools don’t work out. For one reason or another, it may not be the right fit. But how can you know a school, or educational environment, isn’t working for your child? Here’s what three education experts had to say.

“The number one sign is if your child refuses to go to school. Kids typically love to be with their peers, so if you can’t get them to go to school, this should set off alarm bells. Another one is complaining of physical symptoms, such as stomach aches. All kids complain about these things from time-to-time, but if this leads to continual school avoidance, something is wrong. Similarly, a child hating school because it’s ‘boring’ can be another red flag. ‘Boring’ can be a misnomer for a whole laundry list of things that may be going wrong.”
Ann and Karen Wolff, Education Consultant, Wolff Educational Services

“You have kids who are unhappy. For younger students, it can be psychosomatic things, like ‘I have a tummy ache,’ ‘I have a headache,’ or ‘I don’t feel well today.’ Getting a lot of calls from the school because your child wants to go home. It can also be subtler things like just not participating as much anymore, or withdrawing from the social scene. Also, academic struggles can be a sign of unhappiness or depression. When these kinds of problems persist over a long period of time, this can be a sign that something’s wrong.”
Ruth Rumack, Director, Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space

“I think the biggest indicator is the child themselves. Whether that’s stress, anxiety, feeling unhappy, them not wanting to go to school. There can be externalizing factors as well that translate into behaviour, so that you visibly notice there’s something they’re frustrated with. Keep in mind, though, if your child is just starting at a new school, there is an adjustment period. But if this drags on for several months, you should start to look into it more seriously.”
Una Malcolm, Director, Bright Light Learners

Of course, identifying that an educational environment isn’t working for your child is only a first step. You’ll then need to decide what to do: how can this problem be resolved? Below, find expert advice about this question.

“I think the first thing to think about is to voice this to the school: ‘I’m noticing he’s frustrated,’ ‘he’s resistant to go to school,’ ‘he’s not connecting with a teacher.’ However it’s manifesting, the biggest thing is to voice this to the school, because they might not know. The first choice, though, is not to pull a child from school, as this can be a huge adjustment. It’s to try to make it work in the current environment, see if there are any strategies that can be implemented. Whether it’s a social activity, sport, or academic adjustment, the school may be able to intervene with the necessary support.”
Una Malcolm, Director, Bright Light Learners

“This doesn’t necessarily mean the school isn’t right for them. It might just mean they are struggling academically in one or more subjects and that the student doesn’t know what to do and the parent doesn’t recognize this early enough. This calls for a kind of surgical solution: offering targeted academic support. But if the student is extremely happy, suffers from chronic malaise, lack of motivation, or has other serious psychological problems, this is more serious. No matter how accommodating and diligent a school is, they might not be able to help your child work through these problems. You may need to look outside the school for answers.”
Ruth Rumack, Director, Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space

“It may be a matter of looking at how to piece together a school that may not be perfect for this child, but has enough elements in it, that with some other support, you can make it work. It's a matter of the family of the child being able to present him or herself in a certain way, that the school will say, ‘We can make that work’ It's not an exact science.”
Elaine Danson, Education Consultant, Danson and Associates

“It could be that you put a child, for example, into a program and the child is not working well with the particular teacher in that particular school. Is there something that needs to be worked on with the teacher? Can there be a change? Is there some way to alter the current scenario to make it more amenable?”
Joanne Foster, Education Consultant and Award-Winning Author

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