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Choosing child’s school: how to present a strong case if parents do not see eye to eye

Guidance on how parents can choose which school their children attend.

Although the new school year is still in its infancy, parents with children looking to start school next September will already be looking ahead and beginning their research into the whole application process.

State school deadlines can vary dependent on each local authority, and independent schools operate their own timetables. At some, places may even be offered years before a child is due to start at the school. Therefore, it is imperative to check these dates well in advance. Annually, the application window for state primary school places tends to run from October to January, and for state secondary school places from September to October.

But whilst it is imperative to research and visit all prospective schools, for families where there is scope for dispute between parents as to which school the child should attend it is necessary to start this process as early as possible.

Parental Responsibility

Those who have ‘Parental Responsibility’ (PR) for a child automatically have a right be involved in the discussion on which school the child should attend, amongst many other things.

However, if those with PR are unable to agree on the choice of school for their child between themselves or via some form of alternative dispute resolution, a court application may be required. The most frequently used tool for this would be an application for a Specific Issue Order to assist in determining which school the child should attend. However, in instances where, for example, it is believed that someone exercising their PR for a child might move the child from one school to another without the other’s consent, then a Prohibited Steps Order application would be more appropriate.

What would a court consider?

When considering such applications the court’s paramount concern is the overall welfare of the child, and the court will make its decision based on what it considers to be in the child’s best interests. It is important to note that the court will also take into account relevant factors that contribute, (dependent upon the child’s age and understanding), such as their feelings, requests, needs, emotional well-being, and the child’s educational requirements when giving its verdict on the application. Other issues that are likely to be considered include sex, age, and background.

How can I put myself in the best position if there is going to be a dispute?

Should you find yourself in a dispute over your child’s schooling there are certain considerations you may need to research in order to ensure the school of choice is appropriate and meets the needs of the child, (or to argue otherwise if you disagree), such as:

  • what does your child think about the proposed school?
  • what resources are available to your child at the proposed school?
  • how will the chosen school meet your child's specific needs?
  • how might that specific school benefit your child compared to other possible schools
  • how do the school’s academic and pastoral credentials compare to others?
  • what would be the impact of moving your child’s school and leaving known peers/teachers behind?

Then there are also practicalities to consider, such as:

  • how will the child get to and from the proposed school? What is the impact on their time?
  • if there are child arrangements already in place, will the new school necessitate any changes to those arrangements?
  • if looking at an independent school, how will the fees, (if any), be financed?
  • many schools limit intake based on catchment area, therefore, is this criteria met with their main residence address? Alternatively, if time is divided equally further evidence may be required to identify the child’s main residence for this purpose
  • is there actually a space available to your child?
  • is there going to be sufficient time for a court to determine your application before the start of term/proposed move?


Overall, the court will always act in the best interests of the child. Therefore, it is important for the applicant parent seeking endorsement of their choice of school to present a strong case to the court and for an opposing parent to have considered what position the other parent is likely to take, and how to counter that.

This can be achieved by evidencing steps taken to try resolve matters with the other parent in advance of court proceedings being issued, showing consideration of the reasons why the other parent is opposing the proposed school of choice, as well as presenting clear research that they have acted with their child's needs at the forefront of their decision making when choosing the proposed school.

If you wish to make or oppose an application of this nature then our family law solicitors can help, from providing the initial advice, guiding you through the court process, to presenting your case in the strongest possible way.

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