Schools and doctors


Some parents who are not providing the main day-to-day care for their children after separation find it difficult to get the information they need about their children's wellbeing and development from professionals working in education, health and other services.


Often, this is because those professionals are either unsure about their responsibilities to provide information or because they are concerned that providing information to both parents may result in conflict or a loss of trust in their service from the parent who is providing the main day-to-day care for their children.


The following information is intended to help parents who are struggling to get the information they want.



The Department for Education offers the following general principles for schools:


Everyone who is a parent, as defined above (whether they are a resident or non-resident parent) has a right to participate in decisions about a child's education and receive information about the child (even though, for day-to-day purposes, the school's main contact is likely to be a parent with whom the child lives on school days).


School and LA staff must treat all parents equally, unless there is a court order limiting an individual's exercise of parental responsibility. Individuals who have parental responsibility for, or care of, a child have the same rights as natural parents, for example

  • to receive information, e.g. pupil reports
  • to participate in activities, e.g. vote in elections for parent governors
  • to be asked to give consent, e.g. to the child taking part in school trips
  • to be informed about meetings involving the child, e.g. a governors' meeting on the child's exclusion.


Where a parent's action, or proposed action, conflicts with the school's ability to act in the child's best interests, the school should try to resolve the problem with that parent but avoid becoming involved in conflict.


Section 576 of the Education Act 1996 defines 'parent' as:

  • all natural parents, whether they are married or not
  • any person who, although not a natural parent, has parental responsibility for a child or young person
  • any person who, although not a natural parent, has care of a child or young person (having care of a child or young person means that a person with whom the child lives and who looks after the child, irrespective of what their relationship is with the child, is considered to be a parent in education law).


This guidance is offered in more detail on the Department for Education's website here



In October 2008, the British Medical Association's Ethics Department issued the following advice to members under the heading 'Can a parent who does not live with a child gain access to the child’s medical record?':


Anyone with parental responsibility has a statutory right to apply for access to their child’s health records. If the child is capable of giving consent, access may only be given with his or her consent. It may be necessary to discuss parental access alone with children if there is a suspicion that they are under pressure to agree. (For example, the young person may not wish a parent to know about a request for contraceptive advice.) If a child lacks the competence to understand the nature of an application but access would be in his or her best interests, it should be granted. Parental access must not be given where it conflicts with the child’s best interests and any information that a child revealed in the expectation that it would not be disclosed should not be released unless it is in the child’s best interests to do so. Where parents are separated and one of them applies for access to the medical record, doctors are under no obligation to inform the other parent, although they may consider doing so if they believe it to be in the child’s best interests.


If there is a dispute about what constitutes a 'child's best interests', the court, rather than the health authority or the doctor, must make a ruling. For more information about Parental Responsibility, please click here


Download the BMA guidance document here