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It's important that schools are aware that parents may be recognised differently under education law, than under family law.

Section 576 of the Education Act 1996 states that a ‘parent’, in relation to a child or young person, includes any person who is not a parent (from which can be inferred ‘biological parent’) but who has parental responsibility, or who has care of the child.

For the purposes of education law, the department considers a ‘parent’ to include:

  • all biological parents, whether they are married or not
  • any person who, although not a biological parent, has parental responsibility for a child or young person - this could be an adoptive parent, a step-parent, guardian or other relative
  • any person who, although not a biological parent and does not have parental responsibility, has care of a child or young person

A person typically has care of a child or young person if they are the person with whom the child lives, either full or part time and who looks after the child, irrespective of what their biological or legal relationship is with the child.

For example this may be a foster carer or family and friends carer who does not have parental responsibility but has been delegated the responsibility for taking day-to-day decisions about the child.

In cases where a person is not the biological parent of a child, does not have ‘parental responsibility’ for that child and that child no longer lives with them, it’s unlikely that they will be recognised as a ‘parent’. Any disputes about whether a person is a child’s ‘parent’ within the meaning of section 576 Education Act 1996, are for the courts to decide.

GOV.UK have produced a useful guidance page to help schools understand and deal with issues relating to parental responsibility.

Also see