Applications for all year 6 children across the country are due by the end of October 2020 for starting secondary school. In March 2021 parents will find out whether they have been offered a place at their first-choice school. Increased birth rates mean an inevitable increase in demand for school places.
If you are a separated parent, choosing which school your child attends can be difficult. So, what do you need to be aware of?
- When both parents have Parental Responsibility, they should choose the school most appropriate to provide education for their child.
- A child’s mother automatically has Parental Responsibility. A father will automatically have Parental Responsibility if he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth. If the parents were not married, the father will have Parental Responsibility if he is listed on the child’s birth certificate (since December 2003) or has obtained a Parental Responsibility Order.
- Normally parents would visit the schools in advance, but Covid-19 has made this difficult. Many secondary schools offer virtual tours to provide some sense of the school environment. Parents should then discuss the options and weigh up the pros and cons of each school.
- For secondary school particularly, it is a good idea to involve the child concerned and consider their views when making the decision. A family mediator may also assist to facilitate this discussion.
What if you cannot reach an agreement?
- One parent can make an application to Court for a Specific Issue Order, determining where they should apply for the child should go to school (any order of the court will of course be subject to the school’s availability in any event).
- The parent making the application would need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting before making the application.
- Whilst this takes the matter out of the parents’ hands, it is worth noting that where an application is made for a Specific Issue Order, the Court can make further orders concerning the child– for example, with which parent the child should live or when the child should spend time with the other parent. Whilst this is rare when the parents have agreement on these issues, it is a risk that should be considered before making an application.
What will the court consider?
- The best interests of the child will be the paramount consideration.
- An application for a Specific Issue Order may take some months to resolve and it is important that the unhappy parent makes the application as soon as possible.
- If state schools are in issue, then any Court proceedings ideally should be resolved prior to the school application process deadline on 31 October of the year prior to the child starting at the new school, so that the application can be made in accordance with the Court Order, so you will need to plan well ahead.
- Many local authorities will wait until December if parents are in dispute so if this is your situation it is important to obtain legal advice without delay.