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Changing Schools: the Impact to Learning

Mobility has become a major trend in recent decades, with students moving schools and often, countries. Children who get to go to school outside their home country live a life that some consider exciting and full of opportunity. These “international students” get to learn about new cultures, they experience new languages, they travel and explore countries and the associated challenges, and they form friendships that often stay intact regardless of geographic location.

But being an international student requires adjustment. Adjustments such as leaving childhood friends behind and making new ones, coming to terms with a new school and understanding their way of doing things, discovering new expectations and norms of the host country, and at times, learning a completely new language. Different teachers, teaching and learning styles and methods also add to the equation.

Pivotal to a student’s adjustment in a new school, are the partnerships formed to support them: between the school’s administration, teachers and parents. A student’s new school must be welcoming and inclusive, and they should encourage students to engage in social activities, sports and clubs so that they don’t feel isolated.

The effects of mobility on reading and mathematics can be negative (Mehana, 1997), and this is often the result of adjustment issues. At CIS, extra time is spent with new students to ease them into their academic routines, and a buddy system is put in place so that students can quickly make friends. This is important as making new friends and building a good rapport with new teachers is crucial. Both of these factors boost a student’s confidence and positively impact their academic performance. In fact, Galton, 1995 and Pratt & George, 2005 consider making a friend in the first month the key success factor of a major school transition.

Settling in to a school once is a big step for students. Frequent switching between schools can be detrimental, resulting in a recurrent struggle for children and teenagers who seek belonging, comfort and stability in their school life. They can experience feelings of low self-esteem and a sense of social defeat as they struggle emotionally and feel the pressure to repeatedly prove themselves academically and socially.

Parents should monitor their children’s transition to a new school closely and communicate their observations with teachers to give them a better understanding of their child’s needs. Teachers, in return, can make a thorough assessment of the student by taking into account their personality, their emotional status and any relevant family factors. This ongoing open partnership ensures students are supported academically, socially and emotionally, allowing them time to adjust to their new school environment, at their own pace.

Often, parents and students expectations of how long it takes to settle in and adjust to a new school environment are unrealistic. According to Professor Jennifer Warlick’s study, from the University of Notre Dame, one of the little known ramifications of moving schools is the associated learning loss that comes with it. It takes approximately 6 months for a student to recover from a move, and to settle in academically. It is important to be mindful of this fact, and that student success depends on long term stability and a firm commitment to their academic and social environment.

If you are new and have any concerns about settling in or school life in general, talk to us. We have a team who can support you. Above all, we want this transition to be successful, rewarding and enjoyable!


Hattie, (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.

Bradley, (2009). Notre Dame research shows switching schools affects student achievement.

Galton, 1995. Crisis in the Primary Classroom.

Pratt & George, 2005. Transferring friendship: girls’ and boys’ friendships in the transition from primary to secondary school.

Mehana, (1997). A meta-analysis of school mobility effects on reading and math achievement in the elementary grades.


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