School places ordeal for dad means siblings could be learning in both Wigan and Preston

A dad from the borough is facing the nightmare prospect of his son going to school in Preston while his siblings attend classes in Wigan.

Friday, 9th August 2019, 3:32 pm
Callum Gray with his dad Barry

Barry Gray has spoken of the horrendous ordeal he has faced getting his son Callum, 11, into secondary school and the difficulties his family is facing.

Barry moved to Billinge last year but still has legal arrangements to share looking after children with his ex-wife Catherine, who lives in Tarleton.

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Despite Callum’s older brother Brandon and his stepsister both getting into St Peter’s RC High School in Orrell, Barry was told it was not possible for his younger son to join his siblings there.

Worse, the family was then told there might be places at Shevington Community High School and Callum went to look round, only for Barry to receive a letter 24 hours later saying the school was full.

Callum has been offered places at the schools in Kitt Green and Ince run by The Dean Trust.

However, Barry says that would be completely impractical for he and Catherine to share the duty of getting the children to school, leaving them potentially looking at a place Callum had already been offered back in Tarleton as the one he will end up taking before September.

Barry hit out at the school admissions system, saying it felt as though the authorities were unhelpful and unwilling to consider families’ circumstances.

Barry, 40, said: “Having the children in different schools is impossible to achieve logistically.

“I did appeal Callum getting rejected by St Peter’s but as soon as I walked into the room I felt I had lost.

“We’ve been offered places at the Dean Trust schools but he’s not going there. He’s moving into an unfamiliar area, it’s too far to walk and trying to get through the traffic in Pemberton or Wigan in the morning is impossible, especially for my ex-wife who’s driving from Preston.

“We’d be trying to get to St Peter’s, then to Pemberton or Ince, and then to work on time.”

However, Barry said his initial frustrations were then compounded by the family’s experience with Shevington.

He said: “They told us they had places available so my ex-wife and son went to look round. We felt it would work and Callum was quite excited to go there.

“I put the application in for him 30 minutes after that and the next day I got a letter saying they were full. I rang up and they said more places had been given out.”

Barry then tried to speak to the contact centre to resolve the problem and was treated rudely by an operator who he claims told him the best option was to home-school Callum and if his son was feeling anxious about not knowing which school he was attending he should see a doctor.

That left him and Catherine looking at the unpalatable prospect of Callum returning to Tarleton to attend secondary school while his siblings are at school in Orrell.

Barry spoke of the toll the process has taken. He said: “My youngest son is quite a fragile child. He knows a few people through playing rugby at Orrell St James and they are all going to St Peter’s or Shevington. That would have helped him integrate and build friendships.

“He’s lived in Tarleton all his life and it’s daunting enough going to high school. It will affect his education and welfare.

“We’ve had to accept the school in Preston. We’ve been forced into a position where my ex-wife only sees our eldest every other week and vice versa.

“Otherwise they will be late for school every day. I’ve told them unless I buy a helicopter I can’t be in Wigan and Preston at the same time.

“We’ve had shared residency for 10 years and we’re being forced to alter this due to school places. I find it absolutely ridiculous.”

Barry has sought help from Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue, whose office has recommended he take his case to the ombudsman and questioned how a place could be available at Shevington only for the door to be slammed shut 24 hours later.

Wigan Council has stressed its independence from the process, with schools free to make their own decisions on how they pick pupils.

Cath Pealing, assistant director for education, said: “As a local authority it’s our responsibility to coordinate admissions on behalf of schools and ensure that all children are offered a secondary school place.

“However, individual schools determine their own admissions criteria.

“We do understand how upsetting and frustrating this can be for our families when they are not allocated a place at their preferred schools and we will offer support and advice to any parent who needs it.

“Parents do have the right to appeal but the panels are independent and the local authority cannot overturn these decisions.”

Wigan Council did not comment on Mr Gray’s claims about the call handlers.

Yvonne Fovargue MP for Makerfield said: “I’m currently in contact with the council and have asked them to look sympathetically at this situation by recognising the particular circumstances of this case.”