Page last updated at 23:33 GMT, Wednesday, 10 June 2009 00:33 UK

'No school place for my son'

By Alison Smith
BBC News education reporter

Harry Hulstrom
Harry is 'doing well', according to his teachers

"My son wants to go to school. He feels he is missing out.

"All I want is a school. We chose four schools and did not get any of them."

Holly O'Toole, from Clacton in Essex, refused to send her son to their nearest secondary school allocated to him in September last year - poorly performing Bishops Park College.

Opened by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005, only 8% of its pupils achieved five good GCSEs last year.

Just over 40% of its intake have special educational needs, and Ms O'Toole was firmly of the view that her son would miss out because teachers would be spending a disproportionate amount of their effort on those needing extra support.

Other parents who also did not want to send their children there gave in, Holly O'Toole says, but she and the parents of six other children held firm, believing that places at other schools would be found for them within weeks.

Christmas came and went, then Easter.

After several meetings with Essex County Council, the six sets of parents were awarded £10,450 towards the cost of home tutoring - an unusual outcome, as local authorities are not normally liable for the cost of parents who home educate.

The council appears to have recognised that the parents were forced into a corner.

The children are still being educated at home, sharing lessons, tutors and educational visits.


Holly finds it hard to believe her 12-year-old son, Harry, is still between schools, and is not giving up hope that he can be settled in school come September.

But if the only choice on offer is still Bishops Park College - which by then will have been merged with another local school to form a new Academy - Holly O'Toole and the other parents are considering opening their own school.

He wants to play in teams, and meet girls
Holly O' Toole

She still sounds upbeat about the prospects, but admits that the stress has taken its toll and as another September approaches, she is getting "more and more worried".

A reluctant participant in the home education sector, she says she cannot and does not want to educate Harry herself.

"I do not believe I can educate him to the standard he needs," she said.

"His English teacher is talking about entering him for GCSE already, at age 12. I could not have prepared him for that."

The parents of the six children involved got together to pay for tutors in English, history, French and science - but the children only do two or three hours of lessons per day - the rest is informal learning.

'Lots of friends'

Other home educating parents are proud of how well their children mix with others, and how they interact with adults.

But Harry misses precisely that mixing with other children, his mother says. He is still hoping for a school place.

"I'm not too worried about him," said Ms O'Toole, "as we are covering the main subjects and he has lots of friends.

"But he wants to play in teams, meet girls, you know."

She is critical of the way the county council handled their case. She claims nobody from the council visited them for 13 weeks, but the council denies this.

In a statement, Essex County Council said it was always prepared to be flexible and help parents who want to home educate.

"We are well aware of the concerns the parents have about the standard of education at their catchment school Bishops Park," their statement said.

It confirmed plans for a new Academy and added: "The council is confident that such a scheme will raise standards and is hopeful of convincing these parents of that."

Print Sponsor

Parents given home teaching money
08 Apr 09 |  Essex

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