How often in separation do children end up changing schools?

How do you go about finding the right school?

What do you do when you have very little choice?

I have recently had to go through this experience, so here is a little bit of my journey:

“Time to get up doll”, I quietly said last week, rubbing her back. For a week now we have slowly been moving in to slightly earlier nights and waking up earlier.   We are not only preparing for going back to school, we are preparing for life somewhere new – and that means a new school and some big changes.

My daughter had been at a holiday programme for some of last week in Taupo, while I pounded the pavement looking for work. I am in awe at her growing confidence, and even then, as I walked away at the start of her first day in a new holiday programme, I fought back the tears. She is just six years old and off she goes: meeting new people, in a new town, with new situations – and she ran off excited because there was rock climbing that day and she got to climb a much taller wall (if she applies this attitude to all challenges in her life she will do just fine!).

I mentioned to her how it would be neat to meet some local Taupo kids – a mix from all different schools – and she agreed excitedly. I said this to be positive and give her hope, and make myself feel a little better about uprooting her life. It wasn’t my ideal to add uncertainty to her life prior to the change being planned out, but she found out about our move – so I can only guide her and help to lay a minimal bumpy path for her.

This week I am back in Tauranga and at work. My daughter gets a week with my partner/partner’s family, and his two kids that have become like brother and sister to her. His kids spend their holidays with their mum one week and their dad the next – it’s pretty special, seems to work well and is what I have always wished for my daughter.  I know it is common for single parent families.

In considering our move, the most important item on my tick list was that my daughter could attend a good school. Before Christmas, I was applying for “out of zone” placements in primary schools, because I was concerned about the one in our area. All schools I applied to declined out of zone placement, and are not taking any out of zone students this year.  New Zealand apparently leads the world in education, but if the best in education isn’t available and you don’t have the funding to pay for a private school – how do we access that world class education for our child?

In searching for a new school, I have heard an array of comments from people.  Here are just some of them:

  • It’s the child and their character/values, not the school or children that attend the school, that will determine how well your child does.
  • If there is a good principal running the school it makes all the difference. I can see how important it is to have a good manager, like any organisation and think this is important, and a good teacher can make a huge difference – I have seen this with friends kids and the difference between a good teacher and a not so good teacher.
  • With low decile schools the staff aren’t there for an easy ride, they are there because they really want to be, they want to make a difference.
  • The culture at a low decile school can be predominantly kids attending who do not want to learn and this ricochets through the school.
  • High decile schools have better resources and opportunities.
  • High decile schools have a higher range of kids coming from educated families with good values and boundaries and this has a big impact on your child.
  • Low decile schools get more government funding for resources so there are less fees and pressure to keep paying money throughout the year.

My daughter is currently placed in a Decile 10 school, and this was a big reason we moved to the area we did. Admittedly, I didn’t want my financial and marital status to be the premise for my daughter not having a good start to her school life. However, in all honesty, the debate between low decile and high decile schools just makes me want to pull my hair out. Everyone has a different opinion. Do these people come from experience in schools with a range of decile ratings and therefore have a really balanced and experienced point of view? How do you make your own decision on this?

How often growing up did you see or feel the difference in your own thoughts and behaviour change, dependant on what people you hung around? I recall this distinctly when I was in high school, but how much cognitive ability and learning does a 6 year old have to be aware of this? How will this affect their learning? How will your child deal with the emotion and feelings they have if they find themselves in a new experience being bullied, and this level of bullying isn’t calling your child names but holding a knife to them? Is this what I need to worry about preparing my child? If you can have some influence over the percentage of children surrounding your child with this behaviour, in their most impressionable learning years, what would you do?

I found talking to other locals really helpful. Each parent has different views on what school is “best” and at the end of the day you still need to make the ultimate choice for your child. However, I also found out alternatives to get your child in to a good school – one where parents of previously bullied children have chosen to send their kids, and those kids are now thriving. This gave me hope.

What school will most benefit our child’s wellbeing, balance and learning? From discussions and experiences, what can be deemed as the best school in the area will surely still have some negatives. There can also be higher fees to take into account, and it feels like every week there is another fundraising campaign – which can be difficult for solo parents keep up with.

My daughter will be starting at the same school this year at this point. A photo of her 2013 classmates is sitting on the bookshelf, some from last year’s class and some new ones. She says that she is looking forward to a new school when the time comes, but I wonder if she is putting on a tough exterior. Surely there must be some comfort in familiarity.

She got a new school bag for Christmas, as well as a pillow pet she asked for all year and a shiny purple bike that she can’t wait to ride every day. Her days have been filled with fun and laughter and love, and things like playing under the sprinkler, doing craft, hanging out with in-laws, helping to build a hut, having her snuggle time each night. Her biggest tribulations have been: needing to go to bed, negotiating with us on treat incentives, not having x-box time on nice days, learning to share and co-operate with two other kids when she has been an only child, not getting pudding if she hasn’t eaten her dinner! These are her “big” things at six.

I perceive the journey of a child to be not too different to one of an adult, the challenges growing with them as they get older. I see the school we enrol our child at, can make the difference between them being able to focus on the kind of education they are primarily at school for and form wonderful healthy relationships they will make many memories with, or being snowed under with other issues that most parents probably wish their child didn’t have to deal with yet.

Back to school for 2013 – I send you hope. Hope that your child gets a fantastic passionate teacher, that your child finds the courage to make good choices, and you are blessed with the choice of a great school (whatever the decile rating).

All the best,



If you are moving or trying to find a new school for your child/children, there are some helpful government links:

School Search:

Finding A School Checklist:

If your Child Needs Extra Education Needs:


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Michelle Woolley is a qualified nanny, has worked in hospitality, accounts and advertising, and is now studying Bachelor of Social Work full-time, working part-time as a support worker for people with disabilities. In her teens, she volunteered at kids' camps and listened to real life stories, dried the tears of many young girls struggling with living in a broken family. She didn’t realise that one day she would be drying the tears of her own child while parenting alone. Join her as she writes about her journey.

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