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Report lists catalogue of errors in launch of Suffolk's controversial school transport policy

A catalogue of errors have been found in the launch of a controversial new school transport policy in Suffolk.

A cost-saving new policy was introduced last year which only gave children funded transport to their nearest school if it was two miles or more away from their home.

A report commissioned at the tail end of 2019 was published this week, in which chief fire officer Mark Hardingham, who was chairing the review, outlined 19 issues Suffolk County Council must hold its hands up to.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House in Ipswich
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House in Ipswich

Among them was a recognition that the ‘plan was not robust enough’, there was ‘unclear leadership’ and ‘frustration across the system’.

Other issues included a lack of staff available to cope with the workload, software and IT issues and poor communication between the council and schools.

An increase of 450 per cent in applications left hundreds of youngsters starting school without passes, as well as issues with incorrect passes being handed out, and problems with the nearest school website.

Mary Evans
Mary Evans

Parents also criticised the council for having no sibling exemption, meaning some youngsters were forced to go to a different school than their brothers or sisters.

In his report, Mr Hardingham said: “For most parents, the process of applying for school travel was carried out with few or no problems.

“However, for a minority this was not the case and they were frustrated by the impact of the policy changes, the way their application was dealt with or both.”

Cllr Jack Abbott, education spokesman for Labour, said: “Unless significant changes are made to the policy itself, we will continue to see these chaotic situations, each and every year.”

The review was to explore only the implementation of the new policy, not controversies around the policy itself, although education cabinet member Mary Evans didn’t rule out changes to the policy if needed.

She said: “I am taking these findings extremely seriously. I am committed to ensuring that the system for applying for school transport is much more effective and efficient for pupils, parents and schools in 2020 and future years.”

The council’s scrutiny committee will discuss the report next week and make recommendations on what happens next.

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