Date updated: Friday 15th September 2023
The document ‘Understanding and dealing with issues relating to parental responsibility’ produced by the Department for Education has been updated as of 24th August 2023. This guidance applies to maintained schools including sixth forms and nursery year groups, academies and free schools and maintained nurseries.
It provides invaluable guidance for what to do when there are disputes between adults who all may have parental responsibility (PR).
What are the changes?
1. Guidance on role of “corporate parent” i.e. local authorities where a child is in care
The DfE may also refer to a ‘corporate parent’ within statutory and non-statutory guidance. This term is used to describe local authorities and partner organisations that contribute to services provided to looked-after children, namely children who are the subject of a care order. A care order gives the local authority (the ‘corporate parent’) parental responsibility under section 33(3) of the Children Act 1989.
When children are looked after and are subject to care orders the local authority shares PR with parents. This guidance will not change how looked after children are considered by schools, however the updated definition provides clarity on what is meant by ‘corporate parent’.
2. The release of GCSE results to parents: an update on guidance for information sharing
GCSE results form part of the pupil’s educational record and are therefore disclosable to a parent on request. The pupil’s consent is not required. However, if a school considers that sharing this information could result in serious physical or mental harm to the pupil or another individual, it may decide not to release the results to the parent. In such a situation, the school and the affected parent may wish to seek independent legal advice.
Schools should be aware that only parents of pupils attending maintained schools are entitled to request access to a copy of the educational record. For academies and other independent schools, this right does not apply and so if a parent of a pupil attending this type of establishment wishes to access GCSE results, this will fall under the data protection regime. Those with parental responsibility (or others) may make a subject access request on behalf of a pupil for access to GCSE results but this will only be appropriate if the pupil agrees and it is in their best interests to allow this. Further information about what parents of pupils attending academies and other independent schools can access is set out in the guidance.
3. Notifying separated parents about a school move
In the case of separated parents, case law states that all those with parental responsibility must be consulted before important decisions are made, such as removing a child from their school, when they should leave the school or which new school they should attend.
Schools must still comply with the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 when they receive a request to remove a child from the school register. However, there is no statutory obligation on a school to notify one parent if the other decides to remove their child – that responsibility rests solely with the separated parents.
Nonetheless, the child’s welfare is paramount, so, if a school is aware that parents are separated and one parent decides to remove their child, staff may wish to ask that parent if the other has been informed and has agreed to this.
A school should avoid becoming involved in parental conflicts. If parents are unable to agree lines of communication between themselves on issues involving their child, they may wish to seek independent legal advice and explore other options. These might include referring the matter to non-court dispute resolution, such as mediation, or to the family court for adjudication.
Schools may consider it appropriate to make an early help referral. Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges at any point in a child’s life. Where a child would benefit from co-ordinated early help, an early help inter-agency assessment should be arranged. Working together to safeguard children provides detailed guidance on the early help process.
Schools should be careful that they don’t get stuck in the middle of an issue over a change of school. Schools should also be aware that the decision as to where a child is educated is a decision that those with PR should consult with each other. It’s a matter for the parents to resolve disputes, not schools.
‘Understanding and dealing with issues relating to parental responsibility’ can be read here.
(Correct as at 14/9/2023)