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Six-fold increase in school transport appeals after implementation of controversial Suffolk County Council policy

The number of parents appealing school transport decisions in Suffolk has undergone a six-fold increase as a result of controversial changes introduced this year.

Data released under Freedom of Information laws showed between July 1 and October 18 each year there had been an average of 21 appeals relating to school transport arrangements at Suffolk County Council.

But for the same period this year there were 141 – more than six times higher.

Of those, 112 have been decided with 80 going in favour of the parents appealing – a 71 per cent success rate – while 32 went against.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (20472818)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (20472818)

As of October 18, there were 29 appeals still waiting to be heard.

It comes as the first year of controversial changes to the school transport policy were introduced, meaning funded transport is only provided to a family's nearest school as long as it is three miles or more away.

Some parents have raised issues with the policy and its implementation, including split siblings who already go to different schools, split villages and delays in bus passes being issued.

But Mary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for education, said the increase in appeals was not a result of the new policy.

She said: “This was the first year of the policy so it was inevitable the number of appeals would increase significantly.

“While I recognise the implementation was far from ideal, this is not directly linked to the increase in appeals. We welcome appeals and treat every case very seriously.

“I announced an independent review of the implementation of the new policy.”

The increase has resulted in the committee meeting fortnightly instead of monthly, with many routes having to be walked either by the committee or an independent safety contractor.

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “These startling figures underline the chaos these school bus cuts have caused.

“The review into these dreadful school bus cuts can’t come soon enough.”

Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group at the council, said: “It’s really clear to me Suffolk’s new school transport policy isn’t fit for purpose.

“This new data reveals families are actually being wrongly denied transport.”

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