Parents have always had the unenviable task of completing school admission applications for the following academic year. Gone are the days when children would simply move on from primary school to their catchment secondary school. Instead, parents are now required to carefully consider what suits their child best and set out their choice of schools in order of preference. Then there is the long, agonising wait until the Spring when that brown envelope finally arrives containing, hopefully, the offer the parents and child have been waiting for.
Parents, even when separated or divorced, have a responsibility to discuss and agree the arrangements for their children. So what happens when they are in conflict as to their choice of school and simply cannot agree which school their child should attend?
If the parents share parental responsibility, either parent can complete the school admission application and if both parents have done so separately, it very much depends on the Local Education Authority’s criteria as to whose application will be accepted. In some cases, this will be both applications. In those circumstances, each parent may receive a different offer of a school place.
In the event of a dispute, the parents would be encouraged to attempt to reach agreement through negotiation, whether directly, through solicitors or mediation. Often, however, there is no middle ground with each parent insisting their choice is preferable. In those circumstances, sadly it is the Court who will then have to determine the school at which the child will attend and to do so, one of the parents will need to make an application for a Specific Issue Order.
In determining such an application, the Court’s paramount consideration will always be the child’s welfare. In deciding what is in the best interests of the child’s welfare, the Court will have regard to a number of factors and will be assisted by the parents’ evidence. It is an unenviable task for a District Judge to make a decision for a child that should have been made by the parents themselves and there is always going to be at least one unhappy party at the end of the process.
Each parent will be expected to set out how they came to choose their preferred school – will the school cater for a particular talent or need of their child? Did they attend open days; obtain brochures; consider Ofsted reports; investigate extra curricular activities that may be offered?
They will be required to set out the travel arrangements for the child – is there a safe route for the child to walk or cycle to school? Is there transport provided by the school or will it benecessary to use public transport? If so, how will this be funded?
Consideration will also need to be given as to how the child will be cared for before and after school and what arrangements will be put in place in the event of emergency, illness and school closures.
Each parent will also be expected to have carefully considered the option chosen by the other and be able to set out the reasons for their objection.
Clearly the District Judge can only determine that a child will attend a particular school if a place is available and it is essential, therefore, that the parents are able to confirm that an offer has been made.
It does not, therefore, simply come down to the school that received the best results in an Ofsted report but which school best meets the child’s needs. Having considered all the evidence, the District Judge will then make an Order determining the school at which the child will attend.