Hertfordshire parents could be told to go to court if they can’t agree on school application

The revised policy will need the backing of the council’s cabinet before it can go ahead

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 10th February 2022, 4:30 pm

Education bosses are planning to amend school admission polices to prevent multiple applications for the same child, where parents cannot agree.

When applying for a school place, parents are asked to specify the child’s ‘permanent home address’.

But where parents do not live together – and the child lives for part of the week with each parent – that can be disputed.

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And, say education officials, there have been occasions where parents have made separate applications for the same child opting for different preferred schools.

In response, the county council has been consulting on proposals to change the county’s school admissions policy, from 2023/24.

And on Wednesday, February 9, the proposed changes were backed by a meeting of the county council’s education, libraries and lifelong learning cabinet panel.

As a result the revised policy – which will need the backing of the council’s cabinet before it can go ahead – parents would have to reach a joint decision before the application could be accepted.

And if a decision cannot be reached, strategy and policy manager Jayne Abery told the cabinet panel parents would be directed to the family courts.

Referring to instances where there have been multiple applications for a single child, Ms Abery told the cabinet panel: “We have in the past had some real issues with to-ing and fro-ing with parents – particularly who are in dispute, potentially after a separation.

“And we have had some clear legal input around the fact that, obviously, we shouldn’t actually get involved in those disputes – and it is very much a decision that should finally sit with family court.

“So we have just clarified our definitions about home address and preferences to explain if we get separate applications – with different preferences or addresses – we will be going back to those parents and carers to say, ‘you need to come to a decision jointly yourselves or go back to court’.”

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The county council has already consulted on the proposed changes. And while there were just 26 responses to the consultation, 18 were in agreement.

The report to the cabinet panel reported that the review follows a disputed secondary school application last year (2021/22).

It says the council has been advised that using the address to which Child Benefit is paid should be used with ‘caution’ – as this may be awarded to a parent with whom the child does not live.

And as a result they have redrafted the policy to make sure parents return to court in circumstances where they cannot agree.

At the meeting of the cabinet panel, Liberal Democrat Cllr Mark Watkin said he had been aware of a number of cases where divorced or separated couples disputed who had the right to determine where the school their child should attend.

And he said: “It’s a horribly convoluted, horribly distressing situation because there’s always so much more to do with the situation, than just the child – it’s the whole relationship.

“And anything that clarifies it and makes officers’ roles clearer and simpler for them to exercise must be supported – and I am sure no one is going to argue against it.”

The proposals to change the admissions policy was backed by the meeting of the education, libraries and lifelong cabinet panel on Wednesday – and will now be determined by a future meeting of the cabinet.