Today is National Offer Day, when children across the country will find out whether they have been offered a place at the school of their choice.
Finding the right school for you and your child is an important milestone in a child’s education, which is why the announcement in respect of school places is such a big day for families. However, not every family is going to be happy with the offer made. Sadly, there are often disputes between parents about the school their child should attend. There can be a disagreement about the choice of school, the location of the school, whether the child should be state educated or whether it should be a faith school, for example. Sometimes this decision needs to be made quite quickly – parents in Buckinghamshire, for example, must accept the offered state school place by 14 March.
If you have parental responsibility for a child, you are able to have a say in choosing a school for them and to be involved in decisions about their education generally. It is not always the case that both parents will have parental responsibility for their child. A birth mother has automatic parental responsibility for a child and a father may acquire it if he is married to the mother on or after the child’s birth, or if he was registered on the child’s birth certificate as their father after 2003. Parental responsibility can also be obtained by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or by obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court.
If an agreement cannot be reached by parents in respect of their child’s school, they should first seek legal advice, as matters may be resolved more easily with the assistance of an experienced Family solicitor. It is likely that a solicitor will recommend mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution as a first step towards resolving the dispute, if time will allow. A mediator is a neutral third party tasked with the objective of helping parties reach an agreement without the need for court proceedings. It may be that with the assistance of a mediator and correspondence or a discussion between solicitors, a conclusive agreement can be reached between the parents which is in the child’s best interests. If the issues cannot be resolved in this way, then either parent can make an application to the court for one of both of the following:
- A specific issue order. This is an application asking the court to determine the issue in dispute. Specific issue orders can include deciding on which school the child should attend.
- A prohibited steps order. This is an order to stop someone (usually a parent) from exercising their parental responsibility for a child. An order can therefore be obtained by parents who think that the other parent is going to move their child from one school to another without their consent (or to accept a place at a school that they do not agree they should attend), for instance.
A court will generally not consider an application for one of these orders unless the parent applying has attempted mediation in the first instance (or at the very least has obtained information about it). Furthermore, just because one parent applies for one of these orders it does not mean that the court will automatically make the order. Ultimately the court will only make orders about children which accord with their best interests.
If you have parental responsibility for a child and believe that your wishes with regards to schools or any other important matters are being overlooked, you should speak to a Family solicitor before you take any other action. Early advice is always key. Please contact Sadie Glover, Senior Associate at B P Collins LLP for further advice on 01753 944776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.