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Separated parents

For all parents, the search for a good school and the right one for their child can be stressful.

As parents you have ‘parental responsibility’ for a child – this means that you are entitled to make decisions about their education, including which school they attend.

The legal position is that a birth mother automatically has parental responsibility for a child. A father has parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. If the parents are unmarried, the father can acquire parental responsibility if he is registered on the child's birth certificate as their father (after 2003). He can also obtain parental responsibility by applying for a Court order or entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother.

Parents are therefore generally expected to discuss and agree upon important decisions relating to their child’s education together. However, sometimes parents do not agree, or one parent makes a unilateral decision on a child’s schooling without the other’s consent. Such disputes can be extremely upsetting for all involved (not least the children) and also very time-consuming for the council.

Every situation is of course unique and for this reason it is impossible to lay down rules that will cover every eventuality. However, we hope this guidance will give parents an idea of what to expect in the event of a dispute about choice of school.

Above all else, parents need to be aware that we are unable to resolve or take sides in disputes between 2 parents both of whom have parental responsibility for a child. Instead, parents are required to resolve matters between themselves, and, where this is simply not possible, seek a resolution through the courts.

What happens if you cannot reach an agreement about the school?

You might want to consider:

  • How will the change affect your child?
  • Does the school offer better opportunities/facilities/Ofsted standards? Details of the new school should be obtained, and visits carried out and this information shared with the other parent.
  • Will the location be an issue in terms of child arrangements?
  • Can both parents still easily get to school for collection and drop off?
  • Will changing schools have a financial impact on you/the family?
  • What does your child think about the move?
  • What is the objection to the school your ex-partner has suggested or moved the child to?

If you feel you have tried everything and cannot reach an agreement, then it might be time to seek legal advice. In these situations, your application will be placed on hold and your child would remain at the current school ( if already on a school roll).

A child who is not in receipt of education both parents, who have parental responsibility, are liable for prosecution. 

Before applying

We recommend that, well in advance of submitting an application form, parents discuss which school they wish their child to attend, and attempt to reach agreement, especially where more than one person has parental responsibility.

In any event, the person completing the application form must ensure that:

  • they have parental responsibility for the child in question
  • the application has the agreement of all people with parental responsibility or, in the event that it has been impossible to reach agreement, that there is a court order allowing the application

The applicant will be required to declare on the online application form to this effect, or to sign a declaration on the paper application form.

In the event that those with parental responsibility cannot agree on a school, for example, if two forms are received, the local authority will pause the application until both parents come to an agreement and supply written confirmation, signed by both parents, that they are in agreement or supply a court order to confirm who is entitled to make a school application.

If your child lives at more than one address:

  • their main residence will be where they spend the majority of their school nights (Sunday to Thursday)
  • If the time spent with parents is 50/50 at different addresses then you will be asked to provide one main residential address only for admission purposes

Issues after an application has been made

If a parent signs the declaration to say that he or she has parental responsibility and indicates that all others with parental responsibility also consent to the application, and if it subsequently proves that this was incorrect, this may result in the application not being processed. In the event that a place has already been allocated, that place may be withdrawn in accordance with the statutory School Admissions Code, which allows for withdrawal of places offered in error or obtained through a fraudulent or intentionally misleading application.

Where, at first, all persons with parental responsibility initially consent to an application and then one or more of them change their mind, the local authority will continue to process the application. It will also endeavour to keep a school place open for a limited time (up to 6 weeks), where one has already been allocated, pending a resolution to the dispute.


The Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005 give parents the right to access information about their children’s ‘educational record’. The regulations define ‘parent’ widely to include parents who do not have parental responsibility, non-parents who do have parental responsibility and any person who ‘has care of (the child).’ However, because an application for a school place does not fall within the definition of ‘school record’ a parent will only normally be entitled to the information if he or she has parental responsibility.

If one person with parental responsibility requests information about an application made by another parent, they will normally be entitled to this unless under the provisions of the Data Protection Act, there is a good reason for not supplying it. For example, if a court has specifically said they are not entitled to it or if there is reason to believe that providing the information might harm the child. If a person making an application thinks there are reasons why the details should be kept secret, they should notify the authority.

Before passing on the information, the local authority will make efforts to check that there is no legitimate objection from the person who completed the application form. When passing on details of an application, we'll always be sure to redact any personal details pertaining to the other parent, for example address and telephone number.