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Fresh calls to change controversial school transport cuts in Suffolk

Fresh calls have been made for 'common sense' changes to the controversial school transport policy introduced in Suffolk last month.

Suffolk County Council’s new home-to-school transport policy began in September which only gave funded transport to children whose nearest school was two miles or more away.

The changes prompted a wave of public anger amid a raft of issues, including hundreds of applications still outstanding before term started, villages being split over which school was considered nearest, and families having to send youngsters to different schools from their siblings.

Councillor Jack Abbott.
Councillor Jack Abbott.

Parent campaigners called for three immediate changes – a sibling exemption to prevent parents sending their children to different schools, a guarantee on spare seat applications and the issue of split villages to be addressed.

Conservative cabinet member for education Gordon Jones rejected all three suggestions, but the council’s Labour group has now put forward a motion for the next full council meeting requesting the changes.

It also called for an urgent review on the policy and its implementation as a whole.

Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman, said: “The changes we are proposing provide simple, common sense and cost-effective solutions to some of the most damaging and unjust consequences of a policy unfit for purpose.

“These proposals on their own will not be enough to fix the Conservative’s fundamentally flawed policy. However, for many families, it will make life considerably easier.”

The motion has been backed by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group at the council, whose leader Penny Otton said: “The implementation of this policy has been an unmitigated disaster, and the impact on rural families has been appalling.

“I would really urge the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council to take a common-sense approach to school transport and recognise that the policy they have created simply isn’t fit for purpose. They owe it to Suffolk families to acknowledge their mistakes and fix them.”

The motion will be discussed at the full council meeting on Thursday.

Mr Jones previously responded to the three suggestions by the parent group, stating that it was not possible to allocate a spare seat for a period of five years as circumstances could change.

He said: “Where families are eligible for funded transport and choose their nearest school, siblings are already offered transport to the same school. Parents who choose to send a sibling to a school which is not their nearest, even if another sibling is already there, aren’t automatically eligible for funded transport.

“There has to be some point where a distinction is drawn between the distance of two schools. This already happens across all public services and electoral wards. It is the responsibility of parents to get their children to the school of their choice. Without a given area, the costs would be unsustainable and boundaries would expand indefinitely.”

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