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Doctors and Schools

What information can be accessed?

One of the most frequently heard complaints made by parents at FNF meetings is that schools and doctors refuse to give them any information about their children, even though they have Parental Responsibility

The Court of Appeal ruled in Re H (A Minor) (Shared Residence) 1 FLR [1994] 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." 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.

The 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. In seeking access to information from doctors and headteachers it is often more productive to use persuasion and charm, and confrontation is best avoided.

What roles do doctors and health professionals play in the decision?

The ruling in Re H (A Minor) (Shared Residence) 1 FLR [1994] 717 applies equally - if taken at face value - to doctors and other health professionals. It does not allow parents to have copies of the child's medical notes but should ensure that the family doctor or any hospital doctor treating the child will see anyone with Parental Responsibility and discuss the child's health. Where the child is old enough to be considered Gillick Competent, however, his or her consent may be required.

If the child has been re-registered with an unknown family doctor then the Area Health Authority will provide details to anyone with Parental Responsibility if a written request is made (though it may be necessary to supply evidence of Parental Responsibility). The parent must then approach the doctor directly.

The Access to Health Records Act 1990 requires 'the holder of a health record' - a doctor, dentist or other health professional - to provide access to health records in response to a request by the patient. Where the patient is over 16, s/he alone is entitled to access, but where the patient is a child under 16 an application can be made by any person with Parental Responsibility.

Section 3(1) of the Act states that:

3(1) An application for access to a health record, or to any part of a health record, may be made to the holder of the record by any of the following, namely -
(a) the patient;

(b) a person authorised in writing to make the application on the patient's behalf;

(c) where the record is held in England and Wales and the patient is a child, a person having parental responsibility for the patient;

(d) where the record is held in Scotland and the patient is a pupil, a parent or guardian of the patient;

However, information will only be disclosed where the child gives consent or is not - in the opinion of the doctor - 'Gillick competent'. Section 4(2) of the Act states that:

4(2) Where an application is made under subsection (1)(c) or (d) of section 3 above, access shall not be given under subsection (2) of that section unless the holder of the record is satisfied either -
(a) that the patient has consented to the making of the application; or

(b) that the patient is incapable of understanding the nature of the application and the giving of access would be in his best interests.

In effect, a doctor or other health professional - including, under the Act, 'an art or music therapist employed by a health service body' - has the power to decide whether a parent can be given any information on their child's health. The ruling by Cazalet J in Re H (A Minor) (Shared Residence) 1 FLR [1994] 717 only says that "the father is accordingly entitled to the same rights as the mother", which consist in relation to medical matters of the right to ask the doctor for information.

Doctors are, therefore, the sole arbiters of whether allowing access to records is in the 'best interests' of any child that they treat and may withhold information from parents as they see fit.

The GMC Guidance document 'Young People 0 - 18: Guidance for All Doctors' can be found here.

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 latest UK Government guidance on Parental Responsibility can be seen here

Registration

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.

School reports

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.

Parent/Teacher meetings

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).


Nursery schools

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 (now the DfE) 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.


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