MP Richard Ottaway tells Tillie, four, to cycle three miles to school
A FOUR-YEAR-OLD refused a place at her first-choice school has been told to get on her bike by MP Richard Ottaway – literally.
Little Tillie Johnson hoped to start at Roke Primary School – which backs onto her home – in September, but was only offered a place at Byron Primary School, about three miles away in Old Coulsdon.
Her unemployed father Paul does not drive, but when he took Tillie's plight to the veteran Croydon South MP last Friday, he was told to buy a bike.
Cycling from the family home would mean riding down the busy A22 – one of Croydon's most dangerous roads and the spotlight for a high-profile road safety campaign.
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Mr Johnson, of Little Roke Road, said: "We were having no luck with the council and it took three weeks to get an appointment with Mr Ottaway.
"I pointed out the dangerous journey from our home and the expense it would cause to go by bus and he just said there wasn't a lot he could do and that I should get Tillie a bike.
"I thought he was joking at first. To cycle would mean going down Godstone Road, one of the most dangerous roads, around Purley Cross and down the Brighton Road.
"I asked him if he was suggesting I put my four-year-old on a bike by herself, to which he suggested maybe I get a tandem bike.
"It would be dangerous enough with me but when I get a job and Tillie is left by herself, then what?
"For a four-year-old to ride on her bike during the dark winter nights and mornings just isn't practical and is downright dangerous.
"I left his office completely incensed and utterly bewildered. I think for an MP to make these sorts of suggestions is absolutely outrageous."
Tillie's mother Sharon Dunbar is a full-time early years educator in Thornton Heath and is also unable to supervise the school run.
Taking public transport would mean catching two buses and spending £500 a year in fares – an expense Mr Johnson says the family cannot afford.
Tillie was rejected for a place at Roke School, despite her attending its nursery from the age of three.
She is currently having to stay at home, while her friends enjoy the start of school life.
Mr Johnson added: "We have to shut the curtains every day because Tillie sees all her old nursery friends walking by in the morning and doesn't understand why she can't go.
"It's really affecting her."
Mr Ottaway was out of the country this week, but the Advertiser contacted the MP's parliamentary secretary – also present at the meeting – who said: "Mr Johnson had indicated his concerns about the time and cost of bus travel and Mr Ottaway wondered whether he had considered cycling or learning to drive.
"I am sorry if Mr Johnson did not find the discussion helpful.
"However, Mr Ottaway has written to the executive director for children, young people and learners [at Croydon Council] to raise Mr Johnson's concerns."
Update: Tillie has now been offered a place at Roke Primary School