UK to US move

(33 Posts)

MNHQ have commented on this thread.

MovingtoUSmum Mon 01-May-17 10:25:53

Hi all,
I'm new to Mumsnet.
We're moving from the UK to the US for the start of the next school year.
We've just instructed a school search agent. Is there any advice regarding the school systems there, any major hurdles I might face or has it been reasonably smooth transitioning for those who have done it? Not sure whether the kids go into the corresponding US grade from the UK year or whether they go up one - do they get tested? Lots of things to find out and am looking forward to the help!
Thanks xxsmile

OP’s posts: |
ragged Mon 01-May-17 13:30:52

School systems vary a lot by state, and even by district within each state. No one can give you general advice.
Where are you going? California? Alaska? Massachusetts? Kansas?

MovingtoUSmum Mon 01-May-17 13:50:45

Husband is working in midtown Manhattan so we're looking at either New York State (been recommended Westchester County) or north New Jersey (Short Hills/Chatham) which is also commutable.
Not sure whether the move will be permanent or if it turns out to be not our thing, we will transfer back. Previous threads have posted about the difficulty returning to U.K schools after time spent in US so just want to make sure I'm well prepared!

OP’s posts: |
juneau Mon 01-May-17 13:54:59

American schools start one year later than British ones and are a lot less hung up on the age of the pupils in that year (according to my DH, who is American - educated in the NJ school system), so I would expect them to be put in the class that corresponds to their ability, not their age. I would also insist on this, if I was you, as you may well need to transfer them back into the UK system and you don't want them to fall behind or be bored when they start.

If you don't transfer back they could always take a year out after school so they wouldn't be too young or immature to start uni. DH was put up a year, because he was bright, and so went to uni at 17 and he has always regretted not taking a year out to mature a bit. He found uni very hard initially as he felt he wasn't ready for it.

OlennasWimple Mon 01-May-17 14:07:17

Hi - first off, I suggest you asking MNHQ to get your post moved into the "Living Overseas" board (just click "report" on your post and fill in the details on the message that pops up). there are loads of MNers stateside or who have experience of moving UK-US, including a few NYers

The first thing to understand is how places are allocated where you want to live and what the housing market there is like - so are you looking for a house first and then taking the school that comes with it (which was the case when we moved to MA, as all the schools in the district were great but housing was at a premium), or deciding which school you want and ensuring your house supports that. Our district operates very strict boundaries: if you live on Road X you go to school X; if you live on Road Y, you go to School Y. I have only heard of one successful appeal to allow a child to remain at their school when parents moved because of particular SEN support there, otherwise children are expected to move to their new local school. is a helpful website to give you an overview of schools in your preferred areas

Generally we found the transition smooth, but that was at least in part due to going to a big school with a transient population, so they were well used to new starters coming from outside the US school system. I suspect that would be the case for you too in NY.

Some parts of the curriculum were behind where my DC had been in the UK, but some parts were further advanced. The best way to look at it is that things are very different: subjects are covered in a different order, and there are some things like maths (or math!) techniques that are different. Not better, or worse, just different.

Do you have a timeframe in mind to make the move?

ragged Mon 01-May-17 14:10:30

Will the kids go to govt ("public") or private schools?
What school yrs are they in now?
The age boundaries are probably soft/flexible about what year they go into. It's common that very clever kids move up a year, struggling kids may be held back a year.
I have a weird feeling that NY public schools are particularly into G&T programmes. Something to check.

MovingtoUSmum Mon 01-May-17 14:24:55

Kids are 10,8 and 5. Will finish years 5, 3 and R in the summer. Without sounding pompous, they're all pretty bright (currently top groups) and my DS in Reception can now read and write.
Have looked at private schools in US but they're a FORTUNE compared to the UK so not sure whether we could afford that. Concern is whether public schools will carry on challenging them as would hate for them to be bored if they have already learned what they are being taught.
No doubt at all that the NY experience will be awesome it's just that it only seems to be me (and not the hubby) who has these concerns re education. I guess it's not a problem if we stay there but will be if we want to move back.

Will look to get this post moved to a different these. Thanks

OP’s posts: |


OlennasWimple Mon 01-May-17 14:55:28

I'd say that your two eldest will be fine - a good school will be able to stretch them, and they are unlikely to be the only really bright ones in their grade.

Your youngest might find it much harder: s/he will go into Kindergarten, which is like starting R all over again, right down to spending the first few weeks learning how to hang up her coat. Again, a good school should be able to manage to engage and stretch them (and s/he won't be the only one who can read; many US kids go to pre-school where they learn to read and write, even if they don't formally start school until a year after we do in the UK), but you will need to prepare them for feeling like they are going backwards. We had this with DD - as it happens, she is bright but young in her year and "starting over" was actually very positive for her, but it would have been a disaster for our DS at that age.

Don't assume that you can get them put up a year: our school district has a blanket rule that prevents all but an absolute genius going into a different year group (think going to high school at the age of 9, not just going up one year above). Other districts may be more receptive to the suggestion

YetAnotherHelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 01-May-17 16:12:56

Hi there,
We've moved your thread to LivingOverseas, as requested, and just wanted to say how ENVIOUS we are of your move. Good luck!

Waterbeads Mon 01-May-17 16:26:25


Happyhippy45 Mon 01-May-17 16:32:10

We moved to just outside Washington DC in '98 where my eldest went to and completed kindergarten. We moved to north New Jersey in '99. (Morris County.) My dd had to repeat kindergarten because of cut off dates, even though she was a very capable student. They felt it best to group them by age rather than ability.
We returned to the UK in 2008 and both kids were placed in their age group again. I was worried they would be potentially 2 years behind. They weren't. They were ahead in maths and science in particular.

We only intended to go for 2 years....... but we liked it. It was tough moving back but we had reached a stage of the kids education that we had to decide to stay for good or move parents getting older etc.

Good luck with the move.

Want2bSupermum Mon 01-May-17 16:56:31

Hello OP - I am an expat living in Hoboken NJ. We used to live in South Orange, very close to Millburn/Short Hills.

Right now I would not consider anything along the midtown direct. The trains into Manhattan are going to be a nightmare with most trains being redirected to Hoboken. I would do Scarsdale up in Westchester if you want the burbs.

Later on, once the whole train fiasco is sorted you can consider Millburn/Short Hills. For now I would not put my OH through the horrendous commute. It is taking some of my colleagues up to 3 hours to get to work. From Millburn/Short Hills midtown is taking 2 hours each way. There is no known end date and the MTA has been far better than NJ Transit in terms of reliability.

How old are your DC and where are they at in terms of their schooling? If you have any SEN you will be blown away by the help offered.

stuckinny Mon 01-May-17 17:09:37

Schools in Westchester vary greatly. If you go the public school route the school will be chosen by where you choose to live. There isn't the choice like in the U.K. There tend to be just one or maybe two schools at each level. Transportation to and from school is provided by the town.
Private schools are completely different. You pick what school you want but remember that if you're out of area you'll have to provide transport.

Be aware that just because it's a private school it doesn't mean a better education. My DS was in private school for two years and struggled. I moved him to a public school and he has thrived. Public schools tend to have a more varied curriculum and more opportunities.

I live just outside westchester county with friends in Westchester. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

MovingtoUSmum Mon 01-May-17 17:25:06

My DC are currently year 5, 3 and Reception but but the time we leave, they will be in Year 6,4 and 1. Is this the same as Grades 6,4 and 1? I can't quite figure it out because some of the research I'm doing suggests the grades can have kids who are about 2 years apart. I'm not sure I'd want my DS to have to repeat Kindergarten when he will be in Year 1 here! Also how would that affect him if we wanted to move back in say 3 years, would he end up behind the rest of his UK peers? Same as my DDs. Seems there are so many differing opinions on the matter it's hard to know what to think. We'll be heading out there in the next month or so for a recce and I'll be able to visit some schools and ask lots of questions but it seems an absolute minefield out there!! confused

OP’s posts: |
Want2bSupermum Mon 01-May-17 17:26:05

Scarsdale have excellent schools. I have friends who have moved there and looked at it for us and I they have the money from property taxes and involved parents.

It is also a great commute to midtown.

SenecaFalls Mon 01-May-17 22:02:44

Is this the same as Grades 6,4 and 1?

No. Children in the US generally start school a year later than in the UK; kindergartners are 5-6. Grade 6 children are 11-12; Grade 4 are 9-10 and first grade are 6-7. The ages depend on the cutoff date for starting school which can vary from state to state.

ragged Mon 01-May-17 22:20:40

Cutoff date varied from school district to district where I'm from.

Want2bSupermum Mon 01-May-17 22:24:23

In the NYM (New York Metro) area most children start school after they have turned 3. PreK2 is also not uncommon with most children attending some sort of structured program 2-3 days a week even if they have a SAHP.

Couple that with going to a top tier public school district and do not be surprised if your English educated DC are behind in certain areas. DD is in kindergarten and is fully reading and writing. DS is in preK3 - the year before reception in the UK (he has just turned 4) and is reading short books plus writing 3-4 letter words and short sentences like 'I like to sit on the bus.' He has autism and is well ahead of his peers here in maths (counts in twos, threes, fives and tens).

I know Millburn, NJ school district is set up for international students. They have so many families coming from all over the world that they know how to manage these children moving into the district. However be warned that that school district as well as Scarsdale have a lot of heavily tutored children. Expect to be told that you need to provide them with a tutor. They do have a G&T program in both Millburn and Scarsdale school districts.

MovingtoUSmum Tue 02-May-17 07:38:20

Thanks for all your advice - it's been helpful and has given me a lot to think about.

OP’s posts: |
mathanxiety Sat 06-May-17 06:41:03

You shouldn't approach this with the same mindset that people in the UK do wrt academic success or the idea that state schools are probably poor.

On the academic side, it all evens out. The top US universities all accept hundreds of American students annually. Good school districts will have excellent standards. Do not worry about your children spinning their wheels.

Wrt the public and private divide - throw out everything you know from your British experience. Private does not necessarily mean better, or better equipped, or a higher standard of behaviour or expectations on the part of the parents.

Public schools in the US are organised by School District. Each district has a lot of autonomy and raises the taxes it takes to run the schools, by and large, within the District. For instance, my local high school District has an annual budget of about $80m, 97% of which is raised by local taxes, mainly property taxes. For the vast majority of schools, the resources available, small class sizes, sports and arts facilities, and standards expected will reflect the financial profile of the District - wealthy districts with high house prices will generate high levels of property taxes and will expect much from their schools, and the schools in turn will be excellent, with facilities and support services that will blow your mind. SEN provision in particular is frequently astronomical.

School Districts are generally very strict about enforcing residency requirements - you must live within the district in order to send your children to the schools in the district. They will require that you furnish proof of residency and will tell you what docs you will need. Sometimes a district will have more than one school within it, and street boundaries are observed within districts. In that case, you go to your assigned local school - you do not get to choose in-district. My local elementary school district has about ten elementary schools, each serving separate areas of the municipality. In addition, some larger, city districts could have magnet schools designed to offer superb facilities and staff in certain areas - STEM, arts, music, agriculture, engineering, etc. Some have academic magnet high schools with acceptance by very competitive exam.

Your oldest child would probably be on the cusp of entering middle school, and your younger ones would be still in grammar school (aka elementary school).

Private schools tend to be religious schools run by various churches or parishes. In my area there are Lutheran, Muslim and RC elementary and high schools. There are Jewish preschools. In addition there are Montessori elementary and middle schools, and one very small Latin rite RC elementary plus high school campus, plus one small Christian (fundamentalist) elementary/middle school campus. Private schools (at least in my area) tend not to cater for students with SEN apart from high functioning aspergers or autism or physical issues.

People send their children to a private school for different reasons from reasons they might send children to private school in Britain - mainly to do with belonging to a particular faith community or seeking a certain philosophy in the education their children receive. Private schools in general do not have 'districts'. Some parishes may not accept non-parishioners, depending on how subscribed they are. All are fee paying. All public schools are free except for the matter of property taxes, but you pay property taxes even if you choose a private school. You will pay directly as a homeowner or via rent if you rent.

Many people who move find a list of schools first, then look for a place to live within those school districts or within the in-district catchment for a multi-school district.

mathanxiety Sat 06-May-17 06:44:55

*or physical issues that can easily be accommodated without the need for any extra staff or one to one aides or building modifications

MovingtoUSmum Wed 10-May-17 17:40:38

So we've booked a visit in June to check out the areas and schools.
I understand Scarsdale has very different neighbourhoods in terms of the feel of them and the demographics.
Could anyone give me an overview of each neighbourhood of Scarsdale so that we have more of an idea.
Thanks smile

OP’s posts: |
mathanxiety Thu 11-May-17 07:37:33

I am not at all familiar with Scarsdale, but here is how to figure out what neighbourhoods are desirable:

BeALert Sun 11-Jun-17 02:18:04

Bit late to the party but wanted to add my thoughts.

Talk a lot to the schools about how they will make sure your children are challenged. I have a very bright 9th grader who does stuff at school that makes my head spin. They definitely can challenge kids if they are set up to do so. Don't just go with 'Well we have a Talents program for the top 5%.' You want your child to be challenged in their regular classes, not just the special ones they get siphoned off to once a week.

Ask if they will do placement testing to decide which math classes your children will be in. This becomes increasingly important around 7th/8th/9th grade when the brighter kids tend to move ahead.

Other classes I think are slightly less vital, but not falling behind in math is IMO important.

I don't know about the rest of the US, but here it's pretty common for younger kids to be held back a year (red-shirting) to give them an advantage. This means that if you try to get your kids put in a grade higher than their age group in the US (ie keep them with their UK academic grouping) they are very very young for their grade. Not impossible, but something to think about.

I kept my very clever 6 year old with her age group rather than her academic group, and the school was able to mostly differentiate her learning. I think it was the right decision for her on balance, but she was bored at the end of middle school, and she is now at a magnet high school that meets her needs better than our (excellent) local high school. She is a ridiculously driven academic though.

Other things to bear in mind - you'll need to make sure they have all the right immunisations for the school system. That will include MMR, TDAP (DTP in the UK?), Varicella (or evidence they've had chickenpox), and possibly others. Check with the school. I actually wouldn't panic about getting them all done in the UK - vaccinations in the US are generally covered 100% by health insurance.

Personally I prefer smaller schools if you can find them. There are some very very big schools in the US, but also some small and medium size.

In my district they don't tend to have lots of small primaries feeding into one bigger secondary - the elementary, middle and high school all have approx 100-120 students per year, and the same group move from one to the next. That might be different in other areas.

Also in my district, you choose a good school district then find a house in that district. Once you're living in the district, your children are guaranteed a place. Again, other districts may vary.

HTH - good luck!

misssmilla1 Mon 12-Jun-17 02:34:37

Are you buying or renting? I ask, as if you're buying, there is a definite (imo) correlation between the amount of property tax you'll have to pay (like council tax) and the quality of the schools in your area, as a % of your property tax goes towards the schools.

We live in westchester - our property taxes are $10,000 a year less than a mile away. Our area schools are ok, nothing major, a mile away they are massively coveted and seen to be outstanding.

Also, whilst the curriculum is set by the state, it does seem to differ within the state what they teach, and the quality of it. My neighbor is an elementary school teacher and taught in NYC and westchester and says there is often a difference - altho in NYC a lot of the schools are hot houses for academically pushing.

Here's a good forum to give you a feel and search for info on westchester and the area

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in