Parental disagreement on schools
For separated parents, deciding on a school choice for their children can cause complications if there is parental disagreement on which one to choose. A child must start their full time primary education in the academic year in which they will turn 5. Parents need to make the application one whole academic year prior to their child starting so their child can be allocated a school place. For those children starting year 6, as this is the final year of primary school, at the same time parents need to make an application to secure their child’s place at a high school for their secondary education.
Deciding which school to choose can be a tough decision at the best of times but when parents are separated and there is parental disagreement over the choice of school, it can make an already stressful situation worse. The first step in trying to resolve the issue is for each parent or anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child(ren) to try and sit down to discuss the matter in a calm and civil way, without the child(ren) being present.
If the parents cannot do this at home, mediation should be considered as a way to encourage the discussion but have it “hosted” by a third party in a neutral location. A solicitor could also assist either party by advising on the opinions on the current school and the proposed alternatives. The hope is that the issue can be resolved through either of these methods but if not, the last resort is for one party to make an application to the Family Court by way of a Specific Issue application.
The court will consider both parent’s positions and order where the child(ren) should attend school. The parents of the child are not the only ones who can make such an application. If someone who is not the child’s parent has parental responsibility, is the child’s guardian, or is the person with whom the child(ren) lives as per a Child Arrangements Order, then they can also apply for a Specific Issue Order.
When deciding any children matter, the court will be guided by a welfare checklist with the most primary concern being the welfare of the children. Would moving school or attending a specific school really be in their best interest?
Some of the factors that the court will consider are the wishes and feelings of the child(ren) dependent upon their age and understanding, their physical, emotional and educational needs, the likely effect of the change of school upon them, their age, sex and background, and any harm that the child(ren) may be exposed to. Practical considerations are also taken into account such as how the child(ren) gets to and from school, academic credentials, pastoral factors, such as access to learning support and funding (if applicable). The primary focus of any application regarding children should be to act in their best interest with full consideration of their welfare.
If you are parent or someone who has parental responsibility for a child and you need help with parental disagreement on what school your child goes to (or any issue relating to arrangements for a child) please contact our Family Team on 01473 611 211 and book an initial consultation.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.