As a family lawyer and mediator I advise on all aspects of parental disputes. Matters which might be difficult to agree at the best of times can become impossible if you are separating. How do you go about deciding which school to choose for your child, in the middle of a conflict about other matters?
Education choices can cause significant disputes: home versus school education, religious versus secular, private fee or state, which selective or state school.
Guidance from the law is scant: parents have to provide efficient full-time education for their children, from age 5 to 16. It has to be suitable to their age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs.
To try to reach agreement, in addition to visiting the schools, explore all available information. This might lead you to jointly exclude certain schools anyway. If your child has any special needs, and could struggle with a busy senior school environment, consider what kind of pastoral and special needs provision the school offers. If you have negotiated the minefield of adoption and your child had a number of moves before being adopted, or suffered early neglect, it is likely they may well need more care and pastoral support in school than average. These needs might be less apparent in primary years when the schools are smaller and cosier so consider the behaviour policies of proposed schools to ascertain whether they are flexible to individual needs of individual children, or whether they adhere rigidly to strict policies regardless of the effect on certain vulnerable groups of children. If parents can look at these things together, they may find that there are fewer disputes as to the school place. Consider using mediation to assist discussion if necessary.
Be wary of choosing a school based on exam results only as they can be misleading if a high proportion of children receive home tutoring to supplement the teaching within the school. If you are looking at Sixth Form, find out if it is selective or if they exclude weaker students after one year when considering their results.
If there is simply no agreement to be reached, parents can apply to the Court for a Specific Issue Order. These orders resolve important matters including school choice, health treatment and religious choices. The Court will give parents opportunities to reach agreement during the process. If agreement really cannot be found, the Court will decide, based on what it considers to be in the child’s best interests. The court takes into account the child’s wishes, their age, physical, emotional and educational needs and other key matters. The information you can present the court about your choice will be very important.
Court applications of this type can take 6 months plus, so it is best to start thinking about school choice in good time. Even if in dispute, you can still agree what to tell your child about the issue, and agree that neither parent will discuss the school place with the child.
If you have any questions or queries about this article or any of my other articles all of which are on our website www.hmbsolicitors.co.uk., please feel free to email me on [email protected]. If there are any particular issues that any readers would like to ask please feel free to email me.