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Staying involved with school: rights of separated parents

Having children and being separated from their mother or father isn’t uncommon. This can, however, be a very worrying time for a lot of people when it comes to staying involved in their child’s education. Most schools have a “Separated Parents Policy” which clarifies what is expected from separated parents and from the school and its staff. This is likely to be found on the school’s website.

First and foremost, schools will want to know who has parental responsibility for a child. Parental responsibility is a legal term and is more specific that you may imagine. All mothers automatically have parental responsibility. Fathers only have parental responsibility if they were married to the child’s mother when the child was born or they are named on the child’s birth certificate and the child was born on or after 1 December 2003. If neither of these apply to you, you should seek legal advice and apply for parental responsibility.

Parents (who have parental responsibility) are entitled to share in the decisions that are made about their child and to be treated equally by schools. This includes matters such as:

  • Admission decisions;
  • Attendance at parent meetings / school events;
  • Access to school records, reports, newsletters, invitations to school events etc;
  • Copies of school photographs;
  • Information about school trips; and
  • Decisions about suspension or exclusion.

Schools do not have the power to act on the request of one parent to restrict the other parent’s involvement. Schools will only do so if there is a specific court order, which is very rare.

There is likely to be an expectation from school staff that both parents will work together to share information about their child. It is often assumed that the parent with whom the child principally lives, will keep the other parent informed. If this is not happening you should make a specific request in writing for separate communication. Schools also often promote an “open door policy” so this is also a good way to voice concerns in the first instance. If after speaking to the school you continue to feel that you are not involved with educational decisions about your child, it may be necessary to seek the assistance of a specialist family solicitor.

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