Whānau and schools
Your rights as parents and whānau
The legal definitions of parents, guardians and caregivers
Schools are only legally required to respond to parents and guardians. The Education Act defines “parent” as a mother, father or guardian. This doesn’t include caregivers.
So, caregivers might not be able to do certain things relating to a student’s schooling. For example a caregiver isn’t legally entitled to:
- enrol a child in school
- receive school reports
- give permission for a child to go on a school camp.
Some schools won’t ask for proof of guardianship. If you need to, you can apply to become a guardian. For more information, see the chapter “Parents, guardians and caregivers” in the Community Law Manual
Parents have rights and responsibilities when bringing up a child. These responsibilities involve contributing to the child’s emotional, cultural and social development. Parents make important decisions like naming a child and deciding where they live.
A guardian has the same duties, powers, rights and responsibilities that a parent has. You have to apply to the Family Court to be appointed as a guardian if you aren’t a “natural guardian”. Birth parents are usually natural guardians.
A caregiver is generally someone who regularly looks after a child. Caregivers do not have the same legal status as parents or guardians to make decisions about a child.
Your right to be informed by the school
Schools have to report on your child’s progress and achievement.
The principal has to take all reasonable steps to tell a student’s parents’ and guardians’ if there are problems that are:
- preventing or slowing the student’s progress through school
- harming the student’s relationships with teachers or other students.
Both parents or guardians must be told, even if the student only lives with one parent or guardian.
If you feel the school hasn’t kept you well-informed:
- Ask the principal for an explanation
- Make sure the school knows how to contact you
- Make it clear to them that you want and expect the school to keep you informed.
Information for separated parents
If my child doesn’t live with me at all, can I still get information from their school?
Yes. All parents, including those who don’t have day-to-day care of their child, and all non-parent guardians can still get information from a school. You should:
be given copies of your child’s school reports
- be able to participate in PTA and other school functions
- get information about school trips, camps and other activities
- be contacted by the school if urgent medical treatment is necessary
- be able to attend parent-teacher interviews (if you’re separated, you can ask that these be held separately).
Schools can withhold information if your child doesn’t consent (depending on their age and maturity). They can ask for information not to be given to a parent that doesn’t have custody.
Schools have to follow any court order or written parenting agreement that deals with the release of information to either parent.
For more details about this area, see “Parents getting information from the school”
What happens when my ex-partner and I can’t agree on our child’s schooling?
If you can’t agree, either of you can apply for a Family Court Order to decide the issue.
This may include:
- Religious education – Schools can generally rely on one parent’s permission for the child to attend religious education. However, if there’s a disagreement, the school should try to get permission from both parents or follow any relevant court order.
L v H (1996)
- Pictures – Schools can provide photographs to parents unless there’s a court order preventing it. In one case where a father who didn’t have day-to-day care asked for photographs of his child, the judge refused this, ruling that the father’s request was for his own benefit, not the child’s, who was actually frightened of him.