If I started out by saying ‘wow, what a year it’s been!’ it certainly wouldn’t be the first, and predictably not the last time, we will reflect together on this exceptional period as a profession. The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on our schools, our profession and our personal lives are far reaching. Many of us, including families, are processing the uncertainty of returning to school. By the time this is published, many schools will be starting the new school year with an enrolment figure that may be 10%, 15% or more off our original budget target.
When I considered writing this article back in February 2020, I wanted to focus on something we discuss internally as a team, but do not systematically revisit as a whole school community that of our collective failures. Amongst all the stories of fantastic students and teaching and learning, what can we learn about those cases where student transitions didn’t work out so well in our schools? How about the situations where the anticipated transition and school fit didn’t match reality? How can we analyze these quite individual circumstances and draw meaningful links or conclusions that impact our admissions processes and school mission?
The International School of Paris is a full International Baccalaureate World School and, as such, works with an admissions model that is inclusive, excepting where resources (learning support, English as an Additional Language, diploma subject choices, etc) may be limited. For such student files our processes are robust: defined consultation with team specialists and continuous feedback in multiple stages. The focus in these conversations is always whether our school can meet the needs of the child for their growth within the IB programme and at ISP.
Over the years however, there are some cases that perhaps did not benefit from as robust a process, and which have sometimes resulted in poor transitions or, ultimately, students moving on from ISP. Here are a few case studies that we hope will resonate as you perform a similar ‘audit’ of what has worked (and what hasn’t) in your transitions department.
The Late (Late) Request
We all know this one. It’s August, the family’s move has just been confirmed, and certain elements of the application file simply can’t be processed since the prior school can’t be reached or a critical document is in the bottom of a moving crate. That said, the family needs an answer… yesterday! Over the years, we have seen many of these last minute requests and we can admit that, in an effort to provide feedback, and understanding of the family’s stress, some applications did not benefit from as delicate a review process.
For a few of those, the lack of a full set of confidential school recommendations or updated reports has been a critical (later- stage) factor that would potentially have influenced the Admissions Committee decision at the time. This has reminded us that we need to always hold to the standards of process and that any exceptions remain exceptional, and not
a ‘late summer norm’. Moreover, any allowance must always be followed up with conditional acceptance letters and a clear process to permit the full application and subsequent review.
We Think We’re a Fit…(But We May Not Be)
This one is more subtle – you’ve had a great connection with a family during admissions visits and subsequent follow- up. Then they submit the application, and there are some (gentle) red flags. It may be that their parent statement points to expectations that are not exactly in line with your school culture. In our case, these are often about differences between national curriculum reporting and assessments versus the IB programme. Sometimes the child’s profile seems to anticipate points of friction or frustration with what your school has to offer. Again, in our case, this may be a superstar multi-sport varsity athlete who is not used to having to source sports teams and times outside of an urban centred school.
We all know the follow-up, and typically we get the right (or near right) answers from the students and parents. And yet…. for some reason the transition just doesn’t end up syncing. Whilst these are not necessarily ‘mistakes’ in the purest sense of the word, it reminds us that we need to be very clear (sometimes overly so!) to make sure that these families engage to truly understand our schools and our programmes, including our respective limitations. We can help guide them, and may even require this engagement through acceptance conditions, questionnaires and more.
And What About Safeguarding?
Over the recent years, international schools have moved towards a more directed and coordinated approach to child safeguarding, and this begins with the admissions process. In some cases, this is very evident from the immediate prior school interactions and recommendations. In other cases, it may not be as clear, and this can lead to a longer time to unravel once a child joins the school. As such, some schools are requesting a child safeguarding question on their recommendations, others are trying to more systematically contact schools that may not be the most recent, but where there could be a hint of a potential issue (for example, multiple changes within a short time). Here in Paris, we are working more and more as an international school coalition and systematically reaching out to one another when there are school transfers, even when that transfer may not have been the most recent change. It’s a delicate area to explore, but one we have an obligation to do together, as we work towards ensuring the highest level of child protection and safeguarding.
As you assess your team’s and your learning community’s admission ‘mistakes,’ I would encourage you to not only discuss any lessons learned with your colleagues, but also share with the cohort groups many of us established together in Nice. Together, we will need to navigate a challenging year ahead for enrolment, and our shared experiences make for a stronger foundation for learning and growth.