Legal guidance note on parental disputes and school admissions
In recent years, the School Admissions Department has found itself at the centre of increasing numbers of disputes between parents about where their children should go to school. Such disputes can be extremely upsetting for all involved (not least the children) and also very time-consuming for the council.
We have therefore decided to publish this legal guidance note intended to assist parents and the School Admissions Team by establishing a protocol for dealing with situations in which parents disagree.
Every situation is of course unique and for this reason it is impossible to lay down rules that will cover every eventuality. However, we hope this guidance will give parents an idea of what to expect in the event of a dispute about choice of school.
Above all else, parents need to be aware that we are unable to resolve or take sides in disputes between 2 parents both of whom have parental responsibility for a child. Instead, parents are required to resolve matters between themselves, and, where this is simply not possible, seek a resolution through the courts.
We recommend that, well in advance of submitting an application form, parents discuss which school they wish their child to attend, and attempt to reach agreement, especially where more than one person has parental responsibility.
In any event, the person completing the application form must ensure that:
- they have parental responsibility for the child in question
- the application has the agreement of all people with parental responsibility or, in the event that it has been impossible to reach agreement, that there is a court order allowing the application
The applicant will be required to tick a box on the online application form to this effect, or to sign a declaration on the paper application form.
In the event that those with parental responsibility cannot agree on a school, for example, if two forms are received or if the box has not been ticked, the local authority will establish whether both parents have parental responsibility and whether any court order has been made that is relevant to the issue of where the child should attend school. Parents will be asked to supply evidence at this point, for example in the form of the child’s birth certificate or a court order.
If only one parent has parental responsibility, the local authority will give effect to that parent’s wishes by processing their preference(s). If there is a court order, the local authority will comply with it.
If it transpires that both parents have parental responsibility, the local authority will not choose between them. Instead, the application will not be processed until both parents have indicated that they are happy for it to be or there is a court order.
Issues after an application has been made
Please note, if a parent signs the declaration to say that he or she has parental responsibility and indicates that all others with parental responsibility also consent to the application, and if it subsequently proves that this was incorrect, this may result in the application not being processed. In the event that a place has already been allocated, that place may be withdrawn in accordance with the statutory School Admissions Code, which allows for withdrawal of places offered in error or obtained through a fraudulent or intentionally misleading application.
Where, at first, all persons with parental responsibility initially consent to an application and then one or more of them change their mind, the local authority will continue to process the application. It will also endeavour to keep a school place open for a limited time (up to 6 weeks), where one has already been allocated, pending a resolution to the dispute.
The Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005 give parents the right to access information about their children’s ‘educational record’. The regulations define ‘parent’ widely to include parents who do not have parental responsibility, non-parents who do have parental responsibility and any person who ‘has care of (the child).’ However, because an application for a school place does not fall within the definition of ‘school record’ a parent will only normally be entitled to the information if he or she has parental responsibility.
If one person with parental responsibility requests information about an application made by another parent, they will normally be entitled to this unless under the provisions of the Data Protection Act unless there is a good reason for not supplying it. For example, if a court has specifically said they are not entitled to it or if there is reason to believe that providing the information might harm the child. If a person making an application thinks there are reasons why the details should be kept secret, they should notify the authority.
Before passing on the information, the local authority will make efforts to check that there is no legitimate objection from the person who completed the application form. When passing on details of an application, we'll always be sure to redact any personal details pertaining to the other parent, for example address and telephone number.