Concern over plans for school transport

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A HEAD teacher has blasted moves to axe subsidised transport for pupils to Catholic schools in Suffolk.

Hugh O’Neill, of St Benedict’s Upper School, in Bury St Edmunds, says the proposal by Suffolk County Council to withdraw the scheme would hit parents financially and be a further blow to Catholic education in the region.

The authority is to launch a consultation about plans to overhaul home to school travel arrangements for Roman Catholic pupils, children with special educational needs and post-16 students.

Transport for these groups is provided on buses, trains and taxis at the council’s discretion.

Bosses estimate saving £160,000 a year by removing transport arrangements for Catholic pupils and asking parents to pay fares directly on public transport.

Families currently pay £130 a term for the scheme and headteachers fear parents could face costs of up to £800 a year if the plans go ahead.

The service is used in Bury St Edmunds by St Benedict’s and St Louis Middle School.

Mr O’Neill said: “We’re of the strong opinion it is a misguided and unfortunate plan.

“It has a huge impact on parents.

“Four years ago the authority withdrew free bus passes for Catholic parents. From that time on they’ve been asked to make a contribution. We would ask the authority not to take this further step.”

He added that it was ‘another blow’ after the council postponed plans to move to a two tier education system, which has complicated matters for the East Anglia Diocese.

Meanwhile, the authority is proposing changes to modify its policy for special educational needs transport.

They include:

n Any significant changes to personal circumstances, for example a house move, must be notified to the council and will trigger a review of transport assistance and school placement.

n If the council decides that transport assistance cannot be provided, there is the option to appeal against the decision.

n The authority would not provide home-to-school transport for children who may attend other schools or venues as part of transition arrangements or work experience.

n Transport to pupil referral units will be available only at the beginning and end of the school day.

Other options are being considered for post 16 students, who can currently travel within a 75 minute time limit to any sixth form that offers their course.

One proposal, which would limit choice, would see transport only provided to the nearest catchment, sixth form or college that offers their course.

The council could also increase the charge from £130 to £200 a term for travel for post 16 students.

This would cover the cost of a reduction in charges to £100 a term for students of low income families.

Cllr Graham Newman, portfolio holder for schools and young people’s services, said: “If you’re in the position where you’ve got to make savings, you have to look at things which are discretionary.

“I’m aware of the issues it will create for our very valued faith schools.”

On Tuesday, the council’s cabinet is due to agree to launch consultations with schools and families during the spring term about the options.