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What information can be accessed?
One of the most frequently heard complaints made by non-resident parents at FNF meetings is that schools and doctors refuse to give them any information about their children, even though they have acquired Parental Responsibility (see FNF page on Parental Responsibility here) by marriage or through the courts.
Long ago, back in 1994 the Court of Appeal ruled in Re H (A Minor) (Shared Residence) 1 FLR  717 that:
"Since the father had a parental responsibility order, he was entitled to receive full comprehensive reports from the boy's school and full medical details from his general practitioner."
Cazalet J said in his judgement that:
"Whatever the situation may be thought to be by those concerned in meeting the father's requests, I point out that the father, having obtained a parental responsibility order pursuant to s 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 is entitled to all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child. The father is accordingly entitled to the same rights as the mother in regard to the receipt of any reports or documents which, for example, the school or doctor may hold."
This ruling seems clear, but many non-resident parents face difficulties in attempting to obtain any information about their children's education or health from schools and doctors.
Six years later the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) issued its own Guidance on these matters (DfES/0092/2000) explaining that all 'natural parents', regardless of whether they had parental responsibility or not, are equally entitled to participate in their children's educational lives. The document also advised schools how to respond to requests to have the school use a new surname for the child.
In seeking access to information from doctors and headteachers it is often more productive to use persuasion and charm, and direct confrontation is best avoided.
Who is classed as a 'parent'?
The term ‘parent’ under education law has specific meaning and includes all natural parents, others who may have formally acquired ‘parental responsibility’ (e.g. a grandparent, step-parent, adoptive parent), and any individual who has ‘care’ of the child (e.g. foster carer). Don’t be sidetracked by the notion of ‘parental responsibility’ – if you are the child’s parent then the following explanations include you. It’s as simple as that.
The Education Act 1996 requires the school to obtain the names and addresses of the child’s parents. Make sure that your child’s school has this information about you.
Government regulations require schools to provide a written annual report to parents. As a (natural) parent you are entitled to receive this, whether or not your child lives with you. The school may wrongly assume that the other parent forwards you a copy or that you are not interested.
Government regulations require schools to provide parents with an opportunity to discuss the annual report with the child’s teacher(s).
Annual parents’ meetings
The Education Act 1996 requires schools to provide you with a free copy of the governors’ report and the opportunity to discuss it at the annual parents’ meeting.
Independent (private) schools
Government regulations, specifically devised for independent schools, require them to provide an annual report for parents. The term ‘parents’ under these regulations has the same definition as under the Education Act 1996 (above).
Maintained (local authority funded) nursery schools are also required to provide an annual report on the child and give parents the opportunity to discuss this with their child’s teacher.
Where is this confirmed?
Long ago the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) stated that:
"The parent with whom a pupil does not normally reside is, in the absence of any restriction imposed by the courts, entitled to exercise all the rights which the Education Acts confer on a parent of a child in relation to his or her child, and such a parent should be treated on equal footing with the parent with whom the child lives."
In June 2000 the DfES issued revised Guidance for schools spelling out parents’ entitlement to involvement with their child’s school (irrespective of parental responsibility) in the absence of any court orders restricting involvement with the school. Besides succinctly addressing the issues mentioned above it directs head teachers how they should respond to any attempt to have a child known by a new surname.
Despite this Guidance some head teachers still remain confused about parents’ rights of access to information about their child’s education, wrongly believing a parent must have parental responsibility before information is disclosed. Don’t assume that any initial reticence by the school arises from prejudice against you or against fathers in general. Head teachers may simply need reminding or directing towards the information we have provided here. Any problems should be referred in the first instance to the Local Education Authority citing the DfES Guidance and referring generally to the Regulations and education Statutes.
You can now view online the letters FNF has received from OFSTED and Kevin Brennan MP confirming some of the information outlined above.
More detailed information is provided in the Members’ Area of this website
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