[Solved] Secondary School
Here is a puzzler that I'd appreciate some help with.
My ex-wife left the family home just over 2 years ago, mainly to make money from the estate but also to be with the boyfriend at the time (I don't think that one survived contact as there seems to be another around now, but I really couldn't care less). At the time she tried to take our son (then eight) with her, played the mother card and made up the usual stuff about DV that girls do to get more money. Anyway, after an expensive residency tussle our boy (now 10) ended up living with me very nearly half the time (his mother would not quite agree to a 50:50 split because she would of course have lost CB and got a bit less CM, and a smaller slice of the estate, which was what she was really after).
2 years on: my son (the important bit) is happy and well adjusted, just finishing Year 5 at school and doing very well (he should make SATs level 6 with ease by this time next year). His mother lives in a house I bought her about 3 miles away and he alternates weeks, which works okay. My son remained at the same primary school, which is very close to the family home I stayed in.
This is the issue: my boy will be going to secondary in September 2016. The academy 500 yards from my house (the former family house, and one reason why I bought it) is one of the best state schools in the country (consistently OFSTED grade 1 over the past decade and 100% pass rate at GCSE, a good 6th form and concentrates on science and technology). I know that my son's mother will not want him to go there (mainly because it is too close to me, but also because it has different term times to her school - she teaches). Instead, my son's mother will want him to attend either her school (about 10 miles away, and a dreadful academy, OFTED grade 3 and only just out of Special Measures) or one close to her house at the other end of town (adequate (OFSTED 2) and concentrates on business studies with a weak 6th form).
Decision time will come in about 6 months when we have to apply. We have a SRO for our boy that says we have to agree about education. His mother will of course play the mother card (and the receiving parent card as CSA insists on identifying her as such on the strength of her receiving CB, such is this uneven playing field). I want to do the best thing for my boy of course (and he wants to go to the academy close to my house, or if not selected there to its sister school nearby). What do I do? I could:
a. Try to reason with my son's mother that his education is more important than convenience for her (I doubt that will get very far).
b. Try to insist it is my son's choice (he is pretty mature for a 10 year old). That might work better, but he will come in for a lot of intimidation.
c. Agree that he could go to the less good academy close to my son's mother's house (but not to the school where she teaches, that would be an awful choice).
d. Try mediatiation (an expensive waste of time).
e. Go back to court to change the residency so my son lives with me (he says he wants that, and is a bit older now so his wishes might be taken into consideration, but I still fear the mother card when it comes to the family law system).
a. I wouldn't start from this position as its one that will immediately get her back up and she will see it as confrontational and a criticism....not the best way to get someone on side!
b. Rather than put the decision on your sons head I would suggest you sit down as a family and discuss this together calmly. Your reason for choice of school should be about which is the best school, so using the OFSTED tables is a good basis. Your sons reasons will be less about the OFSTED reports, his friends may all be going there, but his reasons should be listened to as well. The mother will put her reasons forward too and then you can all discuss what is best...if its a two- one split then you have a better chance of talking her round. If her argument is because of different term times then try and think of ways around this with suggestions for his care during the shortfall.
c. Obviously you want the very best for your son, and she should too but I can see why she would want him closer to where she lives and teaches. If agreement can't be reached between you then you could bite the bullet and agree to the 2nd choice.
d. Mediation is an option and if you wanted to take this back to court under a Specific Issue Order or to try and get full residency then it's mandatory anyway and would have to be attempted.
e. I would think that success would be far more likely if you went for a Specific Issue Order rather than a change of residency. She isn't a bad or neglectful mother and you have both managed to make the shared residency work so I can't see a court wanting to change the status quo. As your son gets older he will push to make the move with you if thats what he wants. Her control will naturally lessen as he get more independent and in another couple of years the shift of residence may happen naturally.
At least you have plenty of time to prepare, but I would suggest you tackle it in the next month or so to give you time to be able to take it to court if she won't agree and a stalemate is reached.
How kind of you to comment.
Perhaps I should stop worrying so much about my son's future, just let his mother decide, avoid conflict and see how he turns out? Maybe he will survive going to a poor school well and rise above it as a challenge?
...no please don't! The decision is a very important one and shouldn't be left to the mother alone, as you and your sons wishes are equally as important as hers, after all I doubt you would be comfortable leaving your sons future to chance....Sometimes conflict can't be avoided!
Thank you for commenting also Mojo,
This is so difficult for a father. The residency issue cost £8500 to get somewhere near where in a just society we would have started, and I'm loath to have to spend the same again (and have the same emotional drain) just to get my son into a reasonable school. Logically there should be no argument: there are two outstanding academies (both OFSTED 1) close to my house, but as I explained above I don't think my son's mother will agree to either easily and would rather he attended the school where she teaches (I just checked, it has degraded to an OFSTED 4 (from 3) since the previous inspection.
I agree that this is very important, but from our experiences with the residency issue I disagree that my opinion and that of my son are as important as his mother's when it comes to the family law system. I'm really not sure how to play this, hence the post.
This issue is worrying me, I have checked the county's rules for secondary schools applications and in the case of separated parents it will only deal with the parent in receipt of child benefit, which will be my son's mother.
It looks like I will have to just accept whatever my son's mother does, ignore the two outstanding academies within walking distance and instead bus my son to a school in the next town with an 'inadequate' OFSTED rating.
Short of going to court I can't think of anything else I can do. I think Mojo is right, no court is going to change a shared arrangement that is working okay, so there really is not much point going to court.
This is (yet again) so frustrating.
...you can try and negotiate with her, you've got to try I think.
It likely an application for full residence won't work, but a Specific Issue Order is another matter. You were pretty successful at court and that may give you a psychological advantage over her. If she thinks you will return to court on this issue and that your reason is because its a better school, given that she would send him to a school that isn't nearly as good, its just more convenient for her, she losing the argument right there. Add to that your sons wishes on the matter and the fact that he lives just as much with you which is near the school that you want, and I think you have a good case. It needn't cost you thousands, you are equipped to self represent I'm sure.
It's just too important a decision to leave IMO.
Thank you for responding again NJ, that was very kind.
I have tried to do the right thing all along: I fought an expensive residency battle that took me to the limits of my emotional reserves because I thought it was the best thing for my son (he agrees), I bought my son's mother a nice 4 bedroom house outright, I dutifully pay the CM that CSA determines I owe her (on the strength of her receiving CB) although my expenses in caring for our son are at least as great as hers, I happily pay for my son's after school clubs rather than ask his mother for any contribution. It seems though that the state is discouraging me from being involved in any meaningful way in my son's life at every juncture; I have a SRO that seems to be of little value because the state wants me to take a back seat, pay the bills and meet my son in McDonalds for lunch once a fortnight.
I don't seem to have any position to negotiate from on this one in that the county council will only deal with my son's mother, so if she wants to she can ignore me unless I pursue the court route. I want to avoid that if at all possible in order to protect my son (he will have to endure months of intimidation if I do).
Once I get over the usual frustration of yet again being treated like a second class parent I suspect I'll have a go at reasoning with my son's mother to get him a better deal. If he does end up in a very poor school we will just have to try to make the best of it.
I am hoping this post will bring this issue to a close (but it is never over until it's over ...).
Perhaps some good news: when I collected my son for summer hols his mother wanted to talk (on the doorstep of course). She now agrees that we should apply to the excellent academy (500m from my house), with the other excellent academy in the town (a mile or so from my house) as second choice and the quite good academy (500m from her house) as third choice. There was no mention of the inadequate school where she teaches at all. I suspect that having thought about it she probably realised that trying to persuade a judge or magistrate that our (very bright) son should attend a school with an OFSTED grade 4 because it was convenient for her might be difficult; our son's opinion (the same as mine) probably helped also.
I'm hoping this matter will now end convivially (for my son, if not for his mother), but we'll have to see whether the county council assists in allocating a place at one of our first 3 choices. Perhaps more to follow (although I hope not).
Thank you for updating your thread and I'm pleased to hear it's sounding positive. Good luck with your son's application.