Do I have to? Changing schools…

There is so much talk about the return to normal. Every day I read new speculation about when schools will return, and if I’m honest, each new idea makes me just a little bit more anxious.

Because sometimes, when you stop and you take a moment to reflect on what your experience of school has been, you might just come to realise that all those years of playful hating on lessons and complaining through homework, and issues with mates – that are supposedly the same for everyone and just a routine part of the best days of your life – actually aren’t what you want. Taking that moment to realise that school isn’t working for you right now, combined with a moment of remembering that we are actually going to go back, well, it might just be adding to your sense of anxiety. Is it time to think about changing schools?

Now I am much older. I did school ages ago. I realise now that for so much of sixth form I was mentally disengaged. I had picked my A level choices badly on a vague career plan and floated through with a combination of frustration – both mine and my poor teachers’ – stress, anxiety and general avoidance.

The subject I loved I excelled in. The two I didn’t, well – unsurprisingly, I bombed. I was lucky, I still made it to university. I picked a Scottish university and was allowed to study a range of subjects in first and second year and had the chance to fall in love with social sciences, alongside my core English Language degree. I found a pleasure again in learning that I had lost struggling through A levels that weren’t right for me. My two terrible results had massively undermined my sense of what I could achieve and allowed me to create a narrative that I was ‘not smart enough’.

On reflection, perhaps with a moment’s pause, I might have recognised that spending chemistry lessons with my head on the desk in despair was not a healthy situation. I might have used the time to reconsider my values, my passions. I might have been kind enough to myself to recognise that those choices, that environment, actually weren’t working for me. And that I could pick again. I could change schools, or subjects.

So if you feel that sense of despair each time you consider going back to school. And you don’t have the drive to pull out the books and learn more. And each day feels like a bit of failure, it is perhaps time to reflect and make a new plan.


A new plan

Now, a new plan, I agree, sounds absolutely terrifying. Because there is already a lot of change. Change takes time and it isn’t always the easy option and right now we are surrounded by things we cannot just do on autopilot which is exhausting. But changing schools might also feel like a relief, a rescue, a remedy.

Where to start. It may be as simple as you have chosen subjects that just aren’t working for you right now. If that is the case you can either go on. Or you can rethink and pick again.

  • Take some time to reflect on your values
  • Take some time to be honest about your strengths
  • Is this a problem with your commitment?

It’s okay to be honest and say ‘I’m not working hard enough because I just don’t love it’. As long as you’re honest and not making excuses and do what you need to do to sort the situation out. If you do love it but you just love Instagram more, you need to think on that too.

Take some time to consider what you would like to do in the future. Because if you hate your A level subjects now, the idea of a 40-year job developing from that area of study is likely to be a daunting prospect.


What can I do?

Do the research. Explore your character strengths online, explore your personality type. There is a wealth of resources out there which will help you to know yourself better. Use this time at home to read articles, watch TED talks, watch documentaries. Love yourself enough to find something you are inspired by.

Talk to your school. Is it an option to restart Year 10, Year 12, make different choices?

If it isn’t, are you ready to be bold and go elsewhere? Because actually – you can change school or college. There is no shame. The shame is in wasting years of your life being unhappy doing something you don’t love and living with regret.

Now, for some students, this isn’t about a subject choice. It is bigger, deeper, more overwhelming than that.

You may be feeling massive relief to be at home right now. I know one of my kids is. In the last six weeks, I feel like she has come back to us. From a slightly sullen pre-teen, I have my bright, funny, geeky chatterbox again. She is loving home learning. There is no pressure to be cool. There are no issues around not being liked or included. She is free from the daily grind of fitting in somewhere that didn’t work for her.

And now we need to think about when/ how and where she goes back to school. If I’m honest, I think we would have stuck with helping her make school work better for her. We’re lucky. We can buy gratitude journals, apps, emotional resilience coaches to support her with being at school. But now, having been at home, I’m not sure she was the problem. We have to consider that maybe, she is just in the wrong school for her. It is okay to think that, and say that out loud. And appreciate that there might be lots of young people who could do with a fresh start somewhere else.


Changing schools or colleges

Different schools have different theories, plans, structures, people and values. However, the number one thing they all absolutely want is for you to be happy.

Not being happy in one school does not mean you are not right for education. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. We don’t opt out of clothing completely if the first pair of jeans we try doesn’t fit. We pick a new shape, style, colour, size and we go again. School can be the same. You can change school or college.

So if you are at home today, and thinking about what it means to you to go back to school or college. And it doesn’t feel like a relief. And you’re asking ‘Do I have to?’ use this time to be kind to yourself, it doesn’t have to be this way. Consider changing schools. No one size fits all.


Lyndsay MacAulay

Photos by Caleb George and Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash