‘No place for my son at school’

Gary Jefferies

A mother claims she has been forced into home-schooling her five-year-old son despite the fact he only lives 800 yards from his village school – and property developers are to blame said a Kent county councillor.

Tasha Turnbull said she worries about the wellbeing and development of her son Jack following six months of teaching him at home, after the county council failed to allocate him a place at nearby Pembury Primary School.

The Turnbulls were told Jack must attend Brenchley and Matfield School as his local primary was oversubscribed. However, Miss Turnbull, who does not own a car, said to get Jack there and back would take up to three hours as the buses were so irregular.

She said: “I am classed as electively home-schooling Jack, but there is nothing ‘elective’ about it. I had no choice.

“The county council said they would pay for Jack to take a taxi each day but said I would not be able to travel with him, which is unacceptable. I am not going to put my son in a car with a stranger.”

In order to get Jack to school, Miss Turnbull claimed they would have to take the 7.20am bus, arrive 10 minutes later, but be forced to wait outside the school gates until it opens at 8.45.

The next available bus is not until 9.02 and there is a further hour wait to take him home again.

She believes Jack is missing out on what should be a normal education, with detrimental effects to his development.

“It is not fair on Jack,” she said. “He should be able to play with children his own age and ultimately he doesn’t respond to me like he would a teacher. He shouldn’t have to be with his mum 24 hours a day, every day.”

And she does not understand why her son, who lives five minutes away from a school, is missing out on his local primary to schoolchildren from elsewhere.

She says: “I know there are children attending Pembury Primary School from Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Hawkenbury. It’s not right.

“It is not just affecting us, there are at least 18 other children I know of who will be in a similar situation because the council claim the school is at the maximum capacity of 30 children per class.”

A decision to secure increased capacity through a £1.8million expansion was rejected in 2013 after many parents and villagers objected to increased traffic and a ‘diluting’ of the school’s character.

Christopher Hoare, the UKIP county councillor for Tunbridge Wells East, which includes Pembury, said the lack of school places across the borough was due to significant amounts of money not being collected from developers.

This had led to a knock-on effect, with schools such a Pembury being legally compelled to take pupils without nearby school places from Tunbridge Wells, while pushing the local children further out still.

He said: “The county council failed to charge and collect sufficient developer contributions from housing developments in the borough for the last ten years for the expansion and building of new schools.”

A Kent County Council spokesperson said they work closely with the borough council to collect developer contributions from new housing, ‘wherever this is possible’ and ‘in line with planning regulations’.

She cited Skinners’ Kent Primary School and plans to expand and relocate St Peter’s Primary School as examples of how money collected is being spent.

She added: “Jack Turnbull was offered his parents’ second preference school. The fact that the family were regrettably unable to secure their first preference was in no way affected by the availability or any absence of developer contributions.

“The county council has offered support to the family, but must follow a fair and transparent process to allocate school places for all children.

“An independent appeals panel considered the appeal and determined that it would not be appropriate to make an exception to the admissions arrangements for Jack.”

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