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Secondary school admissions with separated parents

(50 Posts)
littlelamby Thu 03-Jan-13 10:42:00

My eldest DSS is going to choose a secondary school next year. His main residence (without a residence order) is his mum's, about half an hour away from us in a different local authority area. One option we'd like to look at is him going to school in a town half way between us. There are two potential issues with this. One is that particular town is our local authority area, so not the one his primary school is in. The other one is that his mum would like him to go to a grammar school which is half an hour from where they live (but in current local authority area) in the other direction from us - so an hour away from us.

I've got two questions I'd love some help with! Firstly, does anyone know what the deal would be with going to school in a different local authority area to where they live? A secondly, what happens if parents disagree on where a child goes to secondary school?


VivaLeBeaver Thu 03-Jan-13 10:46:36

Going to school in a different local authority isn't a problem as schools are no longer allowed to regard county/authority boundaries. At least thats the case here and I'm sure its nationwide after a parent in London took a school/education authority to court over the matter and won.

However you need to look at admission criteria for the school, usually looked after children, kids with statements, siblings then on distance. So if the school is 30 mins from where he lives is he likely to get in? Does the grammar area normally go that far?

You need to come to an agreement over the school. Come the deadline you have to put a 1st choice, 2nd choice down.

balia Thu 03-Jan-13 10:56:41

I suppose if no agreement can be reached you could apply to court for a Specific Issue Order - each side would present the case for the school they want and a judge decides.

But if otherwise things are going well, would you really want to cause that much upset over school choice? Does being an hour away have a big impact on contact time? Perhaps Mum & Dad could visit both schools and see what they think - and DSS's feelings need to be taken into consideration, too.

titchy Thu 03-Jan-13 11:02:35

Why wouldn't you want him to go to the grammar? Most people are desperate to get their kids into grammar!

rechargemybatteries Thu 03-Jan-13 11:08:51

When this happened to me it was the parent who got the child benefit who got to sign the form. As it happened me and exH were in agreement and he was there when the form was filled in but we were both surprised that it was just me who signed, not him, as I was the parent in receipt (sp?) of the child benefit.

littlelamby Thu 03-Jan-13 11:13:35

Thanks for replies. We definitely need to look at all factors and obviously have a good chat with his mum about the options. An hour away isn't the end of the world, but would make it harder for him to stay with us overnight during the week, where as being half way between us would be ideal (never sure how much to make of these things, but it was him mum who originally moved away and we've moved to be closer). It also puts his social life/clubs over that way which make it harder for us to be involved/support those and see him, where as if he was doing those things in our direction, it would be easier. Again, not insurmountable and obviously we'd get involved and support him wherever he was, but it's a case of looking at all options and weighing up what's best.

Grammar schools - well that's a whole different debate for another thread! Personally not that fussed but that's just my/DP's opinion. We've had very brief discussions and he's not that fussed either way, but does like the idea of being able to come on his own to our house after school. His dad has been very good at presenting a balanced view though.

littlelamby Thu 03-Jan-13 11:16:28

Rechargemybatteries - I have read this on a couple of LA websites. Surprised me too, as I thought anyone with parental responsibility had a say over the child's education. I worry that the only way to overcome that is court - and I would hate it to go to court, because of the pressure it would put on DSS, so hopefully we can work something out that is genuinely best for him. Just a bit nervous as we don't have a good relationship with the Ex, and she would almost definitely prioritise grammar school over easier access to dad. Obviously a good school that he'll be happy at is very important, but it would nice to have the other side considered!

SoupDragon Thu 03-Jan-13 11:20:36

Why would he not be able to get from the grammar school to your house? DSs get to their father's by bus, and then two trains (they're 13 & 11). Realistically, the time he will be dependent on help with travelling is very short and it's far more important to get the school right, irrespective of how convenient it would be for him to be half way between the two houses.

rechargemybatteries Thu 03-Jan-13 11:21:29

Littlelamby I agree, as I say we were shocked that his agreement wasn't sought or that his wishes weren't taken into consideration. If we had had different views I would have been perfectly within my rights to fill in what I wanted on the form, totally ignore his views, sign it and that would have been the end of it. (But as I say, we agreed)

DreamsTurnToGoldDust Thu 03-Jan-13 11:26:17

I dont understand why he couldnt get to your house? An hour is not that big a deal, many children have to do this every day just to get to school. Taking it to court would be aggressive, and a total over reaction on you and your DPs part. Prioritising the grammer over his father?

Probably best just to support him during this transistion, and to reasure him that it`ll be ok.

titchy Thu 03-Jan-13 14:16:22

an hours travel's not much at secondary age to be honest. Kids travel far longer than that to get to a decent school!

A school halfway between both of you could well be too far away from either to get a place at!

titchy Thu 03-Jan-13 14:17:03

an hours travel's not much at secondary age to be honest. Kids travel far longer than that to get to a decent school!

A school halfway between both of you could well be too far away from either to get a place at!

purpleroses Thu 03-Jan-13 14:35:12

If you can pursuade his mum to agree with you, then you can apply to the school that's inbetween you from either address - you're presumably neither of you in catchment for it, so it won't matter much which one you use (assuming you're a similar distance from it). Best to use the one that child benefit is claimed from as some LAs ask to see that as proof of address. Being in the wrong LA won't matter - only whether or not you're in catchment matters. You'll likely only to get in if it's not over-subscribed as being out of catchment will put you low down in terms of priorities.

But if you disagree with his mum, then I think you'll lose if you try to take it to court - because he lives with her mainly in the week, and you'd be hard pushed to argue that a grammar school wasn't in the best interests of a child who'd passed the entrance exam.

Unless he's a dead cert to get into the grammer though you'd need a fall back - could you pursuade his mum to put the school that's nearer you as second choice, and then his catchment scool (or some other one that he's very likely to get into) as a third choice, to make sure he gets in somewhere?

mumandboys123 Thu 03-Jan-13 18:04:27

surely schooling is an issue mum and dad should be sorting out? I struggle to understand the 'we' in this....

Children only officially live at one address, even where there is 50/50 shared care. The address that a school application is made from should be the one where child benefit is claimed or you run the risk of struggling to 'prove' the child is resident at the other address. I suspect that only one signature is required on applications for this reason. And to be fair, if I had to get my ex's signature on official paperwork, he wouldn't sign. Not because he didn't agree with the school but because he's unable to separate causing problems from me from their potential effect on the children.

What is wrong with the grammar?

balia Thu 03-Jan-13 19:41:00

mumandboys123 is it really so hard to understand that a stepmum should want to be involved with her DSC's education? Or are there 'issues' for you here that make Lamby a convenient target for a bit of a vent?

I think the objections to the school that is so far away (regardless of the snobbery value/red herring of it being a 'grammar') are perfectly sensible - they will impact on the child's relationship with Dad and SM as clearly the current situation involves midweek contact. And as DSS becomes a teenager, he will want to have weekend contact with friends, clubs, activities, that will just be logistically much more difficult if a two-hour round trip is involved.

Would suggesting mediation be any good, Lamby? It would certainly be a positive first step.

mumandboys123 Thu 03-Jan-13 20:16:55

education is a very personal thing as schools are so very, very different even when relatively close together and sharing similar catchment areas. I believe very strongly that parents should sort this between them, it is not the responsibility of a step parent on either side to be making that kind of choice. You don't get a second chance at education so getting it 'right' for the child is important first time. So no, I don't believe that a step parent has an automatic place in choosing a child's school.

Many parents would kill to get their children into a grammar school. Of course, the academic environment won't suit all children, even those who are 'academic'. But to suggest that the grammar school should be discounted because it doesn't suit the living arrangements of one of the parents isn't, in my opinion, acceptable. As others have pointed out, many children travel greater distances to go to good schools. This usually means sacrifices on the part of the parents - so why both parents shouldn't have to sacrifice when parents are separated is beyond me. This is why a third (and fourth) party getting involved muddies the waters - we all have our own agendas and reasons for thinking one option is better than another. If we have 4 people trying to get involvled in the decision it gets even harder. The OP suggest her partner is fairly relaxed about the choice - which to me suggests (and I might be wrong, of course) that she is trying to get a decision which suits her needs first and foremost, rather than the needs of the child. She is also, potentially, anticipating a 'fight' in asking what the options are if an agreement can't be reached. This should be a last resort, not a first one (again, my opinion).

Top of the list should be looking at the likelihood of the child getting into any of the schools mentioned. There is sometimes a need to be careful because if you make a poor first choice, you can end up somewhere you weren't expecting (and usually the least perferred option) when it didn't need to be that way. Being out of catchment (and half an hour away would often be out of a normal secondary school's catchment, but will depend on where they are) means potentially taking a risk putting the school first - but you can't know that unless you speak with headteachers and the LA. Without that information, it is difficult to advise. It is also information that the OP's partner will need if he is looking for a Specific Issues Order in court to get the school he wants.

I realise it is early to be looking at schools (I am assuming that the child is in year 5 at the moment?) but it is never too early to discuss the issue with the child concerned to get him thinking about what he might want. This should be done without putting ideas in his head and at the same time bearing in mind that as children progress through secondary, they become more independent and being close to school friends generally is something that will be important to them for their activities and friendships. Having friends at a distance might not be an issue for some, but parents also have to remember that they will be acting as a taxi and ultimately, that they will have to let their child go and use public transport themselves, at night, at weekends etc. not just during school run times. This brings with it issues of security and safety and is worth thinking about. This, I think, we are agreeing on!

ivykaty44 Thu 03-Jan-13 20:23:02

Is there any way you can choose the school to suit the child and then you move to accomidate the distance between the school choosen and your house?

ihearsounds Thu 03-Jan-13 20:49:10

Where does he want to go to school?

IneedAsockamnesty Thu 03-Jan-13 20:56:35

If the other parent of any of my children was prepared to veto a place at a good local to the child's residence school solely based on the distance from there own home and how it would impact on them.

I would be pretty pissed off. If however the school nearer to them was better for the dc concerned that would be very different

nailak Thu 03-Jan-13 21:00:00

i agree an hour is not too far to travel, i had to travel an hour too and from school, so did most of the school.

littlelamby Thu 03-Jan-13 21:58:02

Wow, thanks for all the replies!

Firstly - yup, it's definitely a decision for his parents and I'm glad I don't have to make it! However, I'm a partner of one of those parents, so I help DP think about those decisions. This is just me, finding out a bit more about the situation so I can be helpful and informed. I also care about DSS and want him to be happy!

It sounds like the resident parent does get the final say. So that's useful to know. We're in the middle of trying to do mediation/communicate via solicitors, and DP is hopefully going to have the opportunity to discuss this with ExP during that.

DSS is only year 4 at the moment, so we're just doing some thinking now so we have time to discuss it. We (DP, me and DSCs) had a chat about it today, as the topic of secondary school came up, but DP kept it very light and was very balanced - his brother got a scholarship to boarding school and went away, so it was easy to have a conversation comparing that to our experiences at the local comp. DSS was very keen on being able to see us during the week, but that's just off the basis of one conversation.

Obviously the best bet is DP being able to have a balanced chat with ExP and come to the decision that is best for both DSSs, but which has fairly taken into account their education and their ability to maintain a relationship with both parents. However, we have been categorically told on many occasions that DP is not important in the children's lives, so I don't hold much hope out for that. This is also something else to consider - we currently struggle to see the boys regularly, as ExP regularly changes contact at short notice. I suppose this will change as children get older and make more independent decisions.

I don't know what the schools are like in the halfway town, that's something to research. However, I do think you have to consider more than just the quality of school. As balia says, if he goes to school further away from us, then his social life etc will all be based further away from us. We have the opportunity for this not to happen, so it would be good if it could be considered. For me, it feels like the children's relationship with their father is equally as if not more important than a good school, and it would be very sad to harm one at the expense of the other. Schooling is obviously a very emotive topic, so this won't be a straightforward one to resolve.

IneedAsockamnesty Thu 03-Jan-13 22:14:12

You do understand that his relationship with the dc's has very little to do with school location, don't you?

It sounds like you both think its the defining thing

titchy Thu 03-Jan-13 22:38:49

Trust me by the time he's at secondary school he will not want you to have anything to do with hi social life! not sure why you think it would impact on his relationship with his father? Yes you'll have to travel for an hour to see him in school production or for parents evenings once or twice a year but that's no biggie is it?

Don't forget that kids will travel to the grammar from miles away - you may well find he makes friends with kid who live near you now!

ihearsounds Thu 03-Jan-13 22:41:55

Sorry education is far more important. It doesn't matter where the school is, if he wants to maintain contact he will. Even if he goes to the closer school, he might not be happy with that one and move school. His social life could still interfere with contact. He might decide especially during exams to reduce contact. Social interactions could still be further away, not all interactions revolve around the school and that area.

Chances are the rp has been thinking about this. She will be talking to parents at the primary school about where older siblings have gone. Possibly even had the chance to talk to those older siblings, my eldest dd's have been having these conversations with parents for the past 3 years from youngest friends parents (he's only year 2). She probably knows more about more than just the one school, including the one closer to you. Chances are your dss is having conversations with his friends about the school they might be attending.

Then in year 6 there will be the visits to the schools. It's not only about where the adults feel comfortable, but also the dc. When we went through this process, we had complete unbiased conversations, without us as adults having preferences. With each of my dc's we went through pros and cons for their individual needs, and the dc had a major say in the school. Sure it ended up with 3 separate schools, but each school was the best for that dc, even though one ended up doing a 2 hour round journey each day.

mumandboys123 Thu 03-Jan-13 22:46:35

it's more than location, you really need to understand how the LA makes a list of who will attend what school. Much depends where you live and the pressure on schooling in the local area - my understanding is that at the moment (last couple of years, next couple of years) there was a bit of a dip in the birthrate so some previously over-subscribed schools currently have vacancies in year 7. However, you can't depend on this with popular schools as there will always be those who will try their luck - and the success rate varies, depending on how far away they live. There are cases every year whereby one child gets in at number 2, but child at number 4 doesn't 'cos they are that bit further away and places ran out.

If you want the child to go to School A but he lives outwith the catchment of that school and you put School A as first choice, he won't automatically then be allocated a place in his catchment school (School B, within a couple of miles of his home address normally) because that could already be full with people who put it as first choice. Your stepson then gets allocated a place in School C which will probably be the worst school in the area with all the vacancies! You then face an agonising wait to get to the top of the waiting list for either School A or School B by September and whether that will happen or not depends on a lot of factors - including how many drop out (there are always some - parents move away) but also how many are on the list that are closer than you are (including those who move into the area which is a factor which is often forgotten about).

Sorry if that was telling you something you already know. My concern is you persisting with the idea that the school half an hour away towards you is the best school for him - you really do need to get a look at the figures on whether or not it is over-subscribed, understand their catchment boundaries (if there are any) and the LA policy on allocating places. As I said earlier, it's also worth speaking with the LA and the headteacher if you want to attend a school which is a bit further away than normal as they will know the likelihood of getting in. Your PWC doesn't have the defining choice but the courts will need a good reason to go against the catchment school/nearest school, particularly if getting into the school you want doesn't have good odds.

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