Wakefield parents facing 'turmoil' after son's secondary school place withdrawn

John and Jane McCabe's lives were turned upside down in 2017 when serious health problems meant John was no longer able to work.
John and Jane McCabe's lives were turned upside down in 2017 when serious health problems meant John was no longer able to work.

A Wakefield family say they're "facing turmoil" after their 10 year-old son had his secondary school place withdrawn and swapped for one on the other side of the district.

John and Jane McCabe had wanted their youngest child, Charlie, to go to Outwood Grange Academy this September, alongside his older sister Keira.

The couple used to run a pub in nearby Wrenthorpe but had to move to Lupset in 2017 when John's health deteriorated to the point he was unable to work. They moved into a bungalow there so he doesn't have to negotiate any stairs.

John suffers from chronic pancreatitis, has regular occurences of sepsis and has had heart failure. He and his wife have to travel to Sheffield for regular medical appointments and on occasions, he has to be rushed to hospital for emergency treatment in the middle of the night.

As a result, the couple arrange for Jane's Outwood-based parents to collect the children from school and they often spend weeknights there, so that their sleep and school work is not disrupted.

But the council have now said that Charlie is not entitled to a place at Outwood Grange Academy, which is just over four miles away from their Lupset home, despite originally offering him a place there.

Instead, they have assigned him to Featherstone Academy, which is around nine miles away.

The couple's protests have been backed by local charity Kidz Aware, who support families affected by disability.

Mr McCabe, who's 57, said: "We're just at a loss as to what to do.

"Unfortunately our children can't live a normal home life because of everything that's happened, but we do our best for them.

"Over time we've built up a family support system that works. Charlie going to Outwood would have made everything just that much easier.

"We just don't know what we're supposed to do now. It's thrown us into turmoil."

Mrs McCabe, 46, said she was uneasy about the prospect of her son now having to make an 18 mile round trip every day, which would mean him getting four buses.

She said: "In the winter he'll be leaving the house when it's dark and coming back when it's dark.

"All of his mates are going to Outwood and he's devastated. It's really upset him.

"To have to sit down and tell him that his place had been withdrawn, when he already thought he was going there, was so hard. It's really hurt and it's played with his head.

"I just don't know how we're going to cope because it's going to be so, so difficult for us. It's going to cause major disruption to our kids' lives."

The McCabes say they were told by the council's schools team that they were being denied a place because they'd not been up front about their childcare arrangements.

But the couple insist both Outwood Grange and Kirkhamgate, where Charlie has attended primary school, were both fully aware of their situation and that they've been honest from the start.

They also say they followed the advice of their former social worker, who they describe as "fantastic and helpful", throughout the schools application process. However, she has now retired.

They'd also considered home schooling Charlie until an alternative solution could be found, but say they were told that would make it harder for him to return to the mainstream school system.

Appeals to reverse the decision have failed.

Gillian Archbold, the manager of Kidz Aware, who are based on Denby Dale Road, said: "Absolutely, we think John and Jane have a case.

"The anxieties of this little boy have not been taken into account, and neither has the fact that John is constantly in and out of hospital. It makes no sense that he's been offered a school further away from where he would have been.

"The problem is there's no representation for these families who do appeal these decisions, whereas we used to have the Parent Partnership that did that."

Andy Lancashire, the council's service director for education and inclusion, said: "Whilst we have a great deal of sympathy for the McCabe’s situation, we must follow the local authority’s school admissions policy and had no alternative but to withdraw the offer of a place at Outwood Grange Academy as, despite the difficult circumstances, the child was not entitled to it.

"Mrs McCabe subsequently appealed the decision and the independent appeal panel considered all the information presented to them, however, they dismissed the appeal.

"As the appeal panel is independent of the council, we cannot intervene in this decision.

"As Mrs McCabe had only preferenced Outwood Grange on the application form we had no alternative but to offer her son a place at the nearest school with places.

"Mrs McCabe has since entered preferences for alternative schools which we are still processing.

"If the family had contacted the school admission team regarding their circumstances beforehand we would have advised her to put a second preference on the form."

Local Democracy Reporting Service