Mum’s stress over school transport refusal that risked splitting siblings up
PUBLISHED: 07:01 26 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:53 09 August 2020
A mum has spoken of the “anguish” she and other village parents are suffering after being refused school transport for their children.
Katharine Raffill is one of a group of parents in Otley who are being denied funded school travel from Suffolk County Council for their kids to get to their catchment secondary school, Farlingaye High.
The controversial new school travel policy, that was introduced last year, means funded travel is provided for children attending their nearest suitable school if it is over three miles walking distance from home for those aged over eight. Catchment is not a recognised measure.
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Ms Raffill already has two children at Farlingaye who are receiving free transport.
However, in the case of her 11-year-old Izzobel, she has been refused because she “is not attending the nearest suitable school that would have had a place available for them” and was told Debenham High is the closest.
The 49-year-old said she was “absolutely gobsmacked” by the response, adding the county council’s policies “are not in line with each other”.
On Google maps, Otley is roughly equal distance from Debenham High School and Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, at between six and seven miles by road.
Ms Raffill said she even explored sending Izzobel to Debenham High - which would have meant splitting up her children - but it was already full.
The parent, whose work as a self-employed cleaner dried up during Covid-19, is currently going through a second appeal with the Education Transport Appeals Committee, due to be heard on August 14.
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said as she had applied to go through the appeals process “we can’t comment on the specific details of this case”.
To pay for school transport for Izzobel, it would cost the family close to £1,000 for a year - with no guarantee of a seat.
Ms Raffill said: “I have ME [chronic fatigue syndrome] so the stress makes that really bad.
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“Also, with Covid I have been out of work. I’ve been thinking ‘what am I going to do?’
“Should I be looking for work or should I be driving my daughter to school every day while her sisters hop on the bus?”
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She wants to return to her career in education as a teaching assistant, but she has been forced into a position where she is having to consider her employment options, she said.
It would not be possible to walk to Farlingaye, as it would take two to three hours across fields.
Ms Raffill said she was aware of eight parents - all with children from Otley Primary School, a feeder school for Farlingaye - who have been refused funded school transport to the secondary school.
However, three pupils have now been successful following appeals, including those living in her road.
“But for majority of us we are now stranded and desperate to get our children to school,” she said.
“Suffolk County Council have seriously caused myself and a further seven parents anguish, anxiety and sleepless nights worrying how we are going to manage.”
She said Izzobel was also entitled to free school meals, information she is using to support her appeal case as low income is a priority factor in granting funded travel.
Councillor Jack Abbott, county Labour education spokesman, said: “I have huge sympathy for these families who have been left in an impossible position.
“Time and time again parents are having to choose between the welfare of their children and taking on an additional financial burden, all because the Conservative leadership at Suffolk County Council refuse to make the changes needed to fix this punitive policy.
“It is staggering that we have an administration who are more concerned about saving face than supporting their residents.
“This isn’t a partisan issue - councillors from all political parties have repeatedly called for this dreadful policy to be reviewed.
“How many more families have to suffer like this before the councillors responsible for this mess swallow their pride and take the steps necessary to fix this broken policy?”
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