PREPARING FOR THE SCHOOL ADMISSION PROCESS
School applications can be quite stressful for parents, who simply want the best education for their children. There are strict deadlines to adhere to and careful thought must be given about which schools should appear on an application and in which order of priority. The process can become even more complicated when separated parents are not able to agree which school they want their child or children to attend and a dispute arises with a deadline fast approaching. Sara Morton, a Senior Solicitor in the family team at Enoch Evans LLP offers an insight into where to begin and what to do if problems arise.
Starting a conversation early is essential for separated parents when it comes to tackling school admissions, whether your child is due to start primary or secondary school.
Things to consider when making your application
Applications open for schools on different days so you will need to check with your Local Authority from when you can apply. Nationally, there are deadlines for submitting your application, for primary school applications this is 15 January and for secondary school applications it is 31 October.
Ideally, before submitting your application you will need to have visited all the schools you are considering might be suitable for your child/ren and decide on a shortlist of 3. The chosen 3 schools should then be considered and listed on the application in Order of priority. Often, parents only include one or two choices of school on the basis that they do not want their child/ren to attend any other school(s). This is not advisable, as it could result in a child/ren being offered a place at any school in the area that has places available.
Often, parents do not list a second or third choice of school as they live in the local vicinity of the school they want their child to attend and and/ or the child/children have a sibling there already. Careful consideration should be given to the admission criteria of a particular school as the criteria applied to how places are allocated can differ between schools and, indeed, change over time. If a child/ren attend a school nursery this will not usually give them priority over applications from parents with children who have not attended the school nursery. Catchment areas of schools can also be limited. Even if you live relatively close to a school you may fall outside of that school’s identified catchment area. The admission criteria of a particular school will be applied to all applications received. If, having considered the admission criteria of a school, your child/ren is unlikely to be allocated a place there is little point in including this on your application and this could be a ‘wasted’ preference.
Getting your application submitted prior to the deadline is crucial. If you submit a late application, it is likely to be considered after all other applications (submitted on time) have been dealt with and places allocated. This could reduce the chances of a place being allocated at one of the schools included in your application, and indeed, leave you in a position where a place is offered at a school in the area that has places available after all other applications have been considered.
Planning between separated parents
Coming to a decision about your child/ren’s schooling when divorced or separated can be tricky. When both parents have Parental Responsibility for a child this places an obligation on both parents to consult with the other regarding any decision in relation to a child/ren (including schooling) before any decision is made and, ideally, before any application regarding schooling is submitted to the Local Authority. Separated parents should, if possible, agree well in advance which schools they would like their child/ren to attend, they can then arrange to visit the schools separately and discuss their views with each other, before the application is submitted.
If an agreement cannot be reached or it is apparent when starting to consider the issue of schooling that there is likely to be a dispute, either parent can apply to the Court for what is known as a Specific Issue Order. This Order can state which school(s) should be detailed on any application and in which order of priority and/or which school the child/ren should attend.
Depending on when the deadline for submitting the schooling application falls, these applications can be dealt with urgently by the Court. However, Court time is limited and there may need to be some additional evidence obtained before the Court can make a decision as to what should happen. These types of applications can take some months to be determined and parents needs to bear in mind that if they are making an application to the Court and the school application deadline is fast approaching, there is a risk the Court application may not be finalised before the deadline passes.
When considering an application for a Specific Issue Order with regard to schooling, the paramount consideration of the Court is the welfare of the child/ren and consideration would also be given to the ‘Welfare Checklist’ (a list of factors considered by the Court when it makes orders in relation to children).
If you are aware that there will be a disagreement when it comes to your child/ren’s schooling or submitting a schooling application, it is important to take legal advice on your options as soon as possible to provide as much time as possible to resolve the issue and give your child the best possible chance of securing a place at one of their preferred choices of school.
For further information, contact Enoch Evans LLP on 01922 720333 (Walsall Office) or 0121 7252293 (Sutton Coldfield Office).