When two parents have parental responsibility for a child, it is part of their rights and responsibilities to make any major decisions about the child’s life together. One of the most common decisions is choosing the right school for the child to attend.
I often find that this decision isn’t as simple as it sounds. Particularly when parents are separated as it can quickly become a source of tension. It may be that one parent favours one location over another; or one parent wishes to educate the child privately rather than in state education. It could simply be that one parent encourages the other towards a particular school because they themselves attended that school or it has a better Ofsted report.
Where secondary schools are concerned the child themselves may have a view and the decision becomes all the more important. In October each year parents are required to nominate a choice of three state schools for their child. The decision is then communicated by the education authority in February the following year. If the child is to opt out of the state sector then this decision has to be made at that time. Otherwise, the selection for nominating three state schools will be necessary.
What options are available if choosing the right school can’t be agreed?
I often see parents who cannot agree on the choice of school which leads to a variety of problems. In this situation, the parents should first attend a mediation session to try to resolve the issue. A mediation session is where an independent, trained professional (a mediator) sits with both parents to discuss their options with the aim of resolving any disputes. However, if that fails, an application has to be made to the court for a Specific Issue Order. There is no law or past case law involved in such an application other than applying the general principle of doing what is in the child’s best interest. With this in mind, a judge can’t draw on past cases to help make their decision and can only look at the facts in front of them.
Once an application has been submitted, the court will ask each parent to file a statement setting out their respective case. There will then be a hearing for about 3 hours and the court will make a decision which is binding on both parents. Once made, this decision cannot be changed. The process will take at least 3 – 4 months and sometimes longer.
The sooner a problem is identified the sooner it can be resolved. Leaving it too late to resolve properly may result in the child being left with uncertainty and heightened dispute between the parents. Worst still, the outcome being the wrong choice of school for everyone concerned.
For more information on disputes which involve choosing the right school or any other family law matters, please contact our team on 0161 475 7676.