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Separated parents and choosing schools

Separated parents and schools: What can you do if you disagree on where your children go to school?

As schools started to open their doors again this week, you could hear an audible sigh of relief from households across the UK as children made the welcome return to education.  

Due to the covid-19 pandemic, schools’ closing has emphasised the vital role they play in providing education, routine, structure, friendship, and a  safe space for children. 

This renewed interest may have caused some parents to question whether their children’s school is the best one for them or should they look to move them elsewhere?  In-year applications to move schools can still be submitted, so it is certainly possible. 

For separated parents, deciding on a school choice can cause complications if they are not in agreement. For those parents that find themselves in this situation, how can a family lawyer help them? 

The process

The first step is to discuss your concerns with the other parent and/ or anyone else who has parental responsibility for your child(ren). 

You may find that there is common ground, and you agree that changing school is in your child’s best interest. 

If you require assistance in broaching this conversation, you may wish to consider contacting a mediator or lawyer to help you talk about your opinions on the current school and the proposed alternative.

If you cannot reach an agreement, then it is open to you to refer the matter to the court by way of a Specific Issue application. The court will consider both parent’s positions and order where the child(ren) should attend school. 

If you are not the child’s parent, but you have parental responsibility, you are the child’s guardian, or you are the person with whom the child(ren) lives as per a Child Arrangements Order, then you may apply for a Specific Issue Order. 

If you are unsure if you fall into one of the above categories, it is best to check with a lawyer before making your application. 

Considerations for separated parents choosing schools

When deciding any children matter, the court will be guided by the welfare checklist, as set out in s1(3) Children Act 1989. 

The court’s primary concern is the welfare of the children. Would moving school really be in their best interest? 

Some of the factors that the court will consider are the wishes and feelings of the child(ren) dependent upon their age and understanding, their physical, emotional and educational needs, the likely effect of the change of school upon them, their age, sex and background, and any harm that the child(ren) may be exposed to. 

When approaching an application for a change of school, you should consider the practicalities of the change, such as how the child(ren) gets to and from school, academic credentials, pastoral factors, such as access to learning support and funding (if applicable). 

Points to consider 

Change of schooling can be approached as a standalone issue, irrelevant of whether you are the child’s primary carer. 

If you have parental responsibility, you have the right, duty and obligation to decide how your child(ren) is educated. 

The primary focus of any application regarding children should be to act in their best interest with full consideration of their welfare.

Get in touch 

If you would like advice as separated parents on choosing schools, please contact our Client Care Team here, who can put you in contact with a specialist child law solicitor.

Jennifer is an Associate Legal Executive based in our Manchester & Preston offices.

I am well-regarded for my eye for detail and pragmatic approach to my cases. I practice all aspects of divorce including financial settlements and arrangements for children along with prenuptial and cohabitation agreements.

Get in touch


  1. John Wood says:

    I have never ever been involved in any discussions regarding the schooling of my children but hey according to CAFCASS and the family court that’s all OK.

  2. Ian Lovatt says:

    Thank you for the clarity you have provided here, it is very useful. How would a court be likely to act where the children were in private education and one parent wished to maintain this but the other was adamant that it was too costly and the children should move to the state sector?

  3. Simon says:

    What’s stopping the other parent from making an application behind the other parents back?

    I suspect an application is made and approved before some parents find out what the other parent have done.

    • Joanna McInnes says:

      My daughter did just that because her ex will automatically go against anything she suggests out of spite, even at the children’s expense. She is also afraid of him, with good reason.

      The oldest child, who is 7, is currently at a ‘good’ school but there are some children with behavioural issues and the school was not enabling her daughter to reach her potential, which was frustrating. The children were put on the waiting list for an ‘outstanding’ school and after 2 years both were suddenly offered a place. The catch was, there was only 24 hours to decide. My daughter told her ex and he, predictably, said ‘no!’. She got an extension and as she did not hear from her ex again, she bought the uniform and prepared her daughter, who was happy and excited. However she suddenly had a call from her ex to tell her she had missed a Court hearing and that an order had been made preventing her from enrolling her daughter at the school. She had received no information in any form from the court. He had given the court clerk the wrong email for her.
      My poor granddaughter was distraught. She had said her goodbyes to friends and teachers at her old school and clung to the front door handle crying and begging her mother not to take her back to the old school. We believe that, apart from being controlling and spiteful, he simply didn’t want the 15-minute journey to the new school (the old one is near his home), and he hates paying for anything extra such as extra-curricular activities and the after-school and breakfast clubs at the new school are more expensive. He and his new partner earn 6 figures between them, my daughter was made redundant from a part-time job because of Covid.

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