COVID-19: Changing schools if your child has a visible difference

Guidance on managing your child’s worries when changing schools during the pandemic, especially for parents of children with a visible difference.

For children with a visible difference, changing schools can be challenging at the best of times. COVID-19 can add an extra layer of stress and worry for both young people and their parents.

On this page, we share some suggestions on how to manage a child’s worries and concerns about transitioning to a new school whilst restrictions are still in place.

It may be helpful if you are:

  • A parent or guardian of a child with mark, scar or condition affecting their appearance (visible difference).
  • An education professional or youth worker.

We will focus on the transition from primary to secondary school, but the advice may apply to nursery also.

What are the challenges of changing schools?

Changing schools during COVID-19 restrictions may create additional challenges around transition from one school to another. The thought of changing schools, going from nursery to primary school or moving from primary school to secondary school can cause many children to worry. The transition to secondary education can mean moving from a school of a few hundred to an institution with over 1,000 pupils.

Normally, managing this change might include the pupil visiting the secondary school and meeting their new teachers to ensure they are familiar with their new environment. However, restrictions may mean that this can’t happen in the same way.

If a child has a visible difference, changing schools can feel even more difficult and anxiety-provoking. As well as worries about transition, your child may have felt comfortable at their current school or have been cocooned at home and could be even more anxious about a new school and public scrutiny. There is also a concern that important information about your child’s specific needs may not be passed on from school to school.

So what can I do?

Encourage both schools to communicate

Ideally, the primary school would liaise with parents and the secondary school to ensure any support needs are put in place. Parents can encourage the schools to liaise with each other by getting in touch with their child’s primary school to discuss the transition and what has been, or will be, put in place. Primary and secondary schools will be familiar with the process of transition and may already have plans.

Contact the secondary school

There may be reasons the primary school isn’t in a position to pass on information. In this case, you could consider contacting the secondary school yourself. Initially, do this by email to arrange a suitable time for a telephone call. You will be able to find a suitable email address on the school’s website.

Speak to the secondary school

Here are some suggestions that may help you when speaking with the school:

  • Tell the new school about your child and your concerns.
  • Highlight the particular worries and concerns your child is experiencing.
  • Let them know what support they are currently receiving.
  • Give details of their visible difference and any associated medical needs.
  • Explain how you and your child prefer to have their condition, mark or scar described. This will help the teacher as they may not know what words to use.
  • Ask who your child’s form tutor will be.
  • Ask who the school’s pastoral team are and who your child should go to if they have concerns.
  • Ask if their new teacher could video call, call or email your child so they feel familiar with them on their first day.
  • Let them know what you think will help your child settle in and tell them about what worked and what didn’t work in their last school.
  • Ask them what will happen on the first day and if there’s anything you or your child should prepare beforehand.
  • Let them know about Changing Faces’ teacher support materials on our website.

Preparing your child

Here are some suggestions of things you can do to support your child and ease concerns they may have about changing schools:

  • Look at the school’s website together. This should have lots of information about the school, including newsletters, curriculum information, names of teachers and support staff, as well as school activities, such as visits, drama and music productions etc. This will help your child to become familiar with the new environment and make it feel less “unknown”.
  • Talk to them about the things they may like or be interested in at their new school. Feeling positive about the school and all the various activities they can become involved in will help them look forward to the new school, rather than worry about it.
  • If friends or other pupils in your child’s current class are also attending the new school, try swapping information with other parents. Or if you know another parent whose child already attends the school ask them about their child’s first day and perhaps see if they and your child could talk to each other.
  • A walk or drive past the school can help familiarise your child with their new environment. You can always use Google Street View to do a mock journey to school from your own home.
  • Once they have started at the school, make some time to talk about how their day has gone – asking about what went well or was positive as well as the challenges.

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