Students battle to keep subsidised transport

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A BATTLE is raging to save subsidised transport for Catholic schools in the region.

Students at St Benedict’s Upper School, in Bury St Edmunds, are campaigning against moves by Suffolk County Council to axe a transport service to Catholic schools.

Council bosses estimate saving £160,000 a year by removing the arrangements and asking parents to pay fares directly on public transport.

The plans are part of a wider overhaul of home to school transport also affecting post-16 students and children with special educational needs.

The Catholic students, who also want to reverse a decision to abolish the Explore discount travel card, have now launched a petition.

At a meeting with the Bury Free Press, 10 pupils from St Louis middle and another 16 from St Benedict’s hit out at the ‘expensive’ travel costs families will have to pay if the subsidy is axed.

They currently pay £130 a term and argue that due to the increased costs, which could be up to £1,000 a year, some would have to move schools.

St Benedict’s pupil Katie Vango, 16, of Sudbury, who organised the campaign with three friends, said: “People who want to have faith education are not going to be able to and will have to go to their local school.

“We want people to have the same level of education we have had for years to come. “

She was backed by other St Benedict’s pupils including Toby Horkan, 14, of Sudbury.

He said: “It’s ruining our education by making us go to a different school if it gets too expensive.”

Ben Rampling, 13, added: “I don’t think my parents would be able to afford it because I’ve got two brothers. I wouldn’t want to leave here because I’ve made lots of friends. It would ruin my life.”

Meanwhile Abbie-Lauren Chance, 10, who attends St Louis Middle School, said: “If the money goes up, we’re going to lose all our friends because they will have to go to a different school.”

Fellow pupil Lucy Kerr, 13, added: “My parents probably wouldn’t be able to afford it so I would have to move school. I’m Catholic and go to church every week and religion is a big part of my life.”

The plans will affect at least 107 pupils at St Benedict’s and 170 at St Louis.

St Benedict’s headteacher Hugh O’Neill said that if pupils were forced to move schools, they could potentially have to start their year again or make compromises as to which courses they studied. He added: “It would be hugely damaging.”

Cllr Graham Newman, portfolio holder for schools, defended the moves and said the current scheme was ‘simply not sustainable’. He invited parents and pupils to take part in the consultation process.