Applying for School Places

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If you have a 3-year-old child born between 1 September 2015 and 31 August 2016, you will need to apply for their primary school place to commence in September 2020.  The opening dates for applications vary according to the Local Authority but the deadline for all applications for primary school is 15 January 2020.  National Offer day, when you learn which school your child has been offered, is 16 April 2020.

This can be an exciting yet nerve racking time for parents even when they remain together but when parents have separated, disputes about important decisions such as schooling can be very upsetting for the parents and, more importantly, the children.

So, who decides which school your child should attend?  Ultimately, it is the Local Authority who decides the school at which your child will be offered a place, but this will be based on your application stating your preferences for school.  The Local Authority will then use certain criteria, such as catchment area and whether any siblings already attend the school, to make their decision.

So, who completes the application?  A person with Parental Responsibility for the child is required to complete the application.  This will typically therefore be the mother or a father who is either named on the child’s birth certificate or was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth.

Where separated parents both have Parental Responsibility for the child, you will need to check with your Local Authority how they deal with this but, in our experience, the application will usually need to completed by the parent to whom Child Benefit is paid or by the parent living at the address at which the child is registered with a doctor.  If for some reason neither of these conditions apply, then it will be the parent with whom the child spends the majority of the school week.  Evidence may be requested to confirm this.

The parent completing the application will, however, need to do so with the full knowledge and consent of the other parent.  If agreement cannot be reached between the parents, a court order will be required.

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15 January 2020 may seem like a long way away but really it isn’t very long.  If you haven’t done so already, discuss what schools you would like to apply for.  You can list up to six choices depending on your Local Authority.

If it quickly becomes clear that you can’t agree then you can attempt mediation.  Mediation is a process by which a trained, skilled mediator can steer discussions between the parties to try and reach agreement.  Agreement is generally considered to be in the best interests for the children as agreed arrangements are more likely to work in the longer term.  Mediation is a pre-requisite to making a court application anyway (save in exceptional circumstances such as where there has been domestic abuse).

If parents still can’t agree, an application for a Specific Issue Order may be required in which the court will be asked to make a decision on the matter.  In our experience, it can take at least 3-4 weeks for the court to list a first hearing so there really is no time to waste.

What will the court consider? The child’s welfare will be the court’s paramount consideration.  The court will have particular regard to various issues including the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs; their age, sex, background and any other characteristics which the court considers relevant; and how capable each of the parents is of meeting the child’s needs.  It will therefore be worth considering, for example, where you each live in relation to the schools being considered hence the travel time for the child – school days can be long enough for a 4 year old without long journeys at either end of the day.  You will also need to think about any childcare arrangements outside of school hours which will need to be arranged.  Does the school have a breakfast or after school club?  Perhaps the contact/shared care arrangements need tweaking to accommodate this.

Alternatively, does your child meet the criteria for Additionally Resourced Provision (ARP) and is there a school nearby that offers this?

Ultimately, think about what is best for your child.

If necessary, the court may direct a CAFCASS Officer to prepare a report making a recommendation on the issue.  If agreement still cannot be reached between the parties, the court will have to make a decision at a final hearing.

We can help guide you through this process.  At IBB we are members of Resolution therefore we will try and assist you to resolve disputes by agreement if possible.

Contact IBB’s family law experts today

IBB Solicitors’ family law practice can provide  expert advice on all childcare and  other family law issues. To contact the family law team please email or call 03456 381381.