Thurston Community College stakeholders fight for free school transport at meeting

Over 100 people attended the meeting at Thurston Community College where parents, teachers and students raised concerns about the transport proposals
Over 100 people attended the meeting at Thurston Community College where parents, teachers and students raised concerns about the transport proposals

Over 100 people descended on Thurston Community College on Thursday to express their concerns about the controversial plans to cut free school transport in Suffolk.

The proposed changes would see children only receive transport to their nearest school, which could see 3700 children lose their free school transport and have to pay or move schools.

Thurston is set to be hit the hardest by the plans, with a loss of 812 students - over half of its current student body.

A public consultation launched in December, with people being asked to consider three options: to only offer the services required by law, to allow those with free transport now to keep it but not offer it to new starters, or to do nothing but cut costs elsewhere.

Headteacher Helen Wilson called a Stakeholders’ meeting on Thursday evening to allow the voices of those most affected by the proposals to be heard and to encourage them to support option three in the consultation.

Around 20 county councillors also attended the meeting, which saw groups of parents, teachers, students and parish councillors present their case as to why the plans shouldn’t go ahead.

Mrs Wilson kicked off the event with a presentation of the ‘true costs’ of the plans, which the council initially said would save them £3 million.

She said that, as a result of paying for extra buses, the council’s savings would actually only total around £200,000, adding that redundancy payments at her school could total around £2.4 million in the next five years.

“The proposals will have a detrimental effect on our students, our teachers and our school,” she said.

“We need to tell the council that this option is not good enough. Let’s continue to fight this together and I do believe we will win.”

Pupils and teachers from Rattlesden, Norton and Barnham Primary Schools, feeder schools for Thurston which would see some of their students receive free transport to Stowmarket under the plans, then took to the stage to have their say.

Georgina, a Year 6 pupil at Rattlesden, said: “It’s taken me quite a while to make friends here and the thought of having to go to another school and being split up from my friends makes me feel scared and vulnerable.

“If you don’t listen to us now then you’ll lose our trust and you won’t get it back.”

Parents, Thurston students and parish councillors also identified increased traffic, travel costs and disruption to their education as being among their biggest concerns.

At the end of the meeting, parents agreed to take part in a protest on Friday, February 9 and drive their children to school in order to show how the proposals would increase the levels of traffic in the village.

Cllr Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “We have already received a significant amount of feedback to the consultation, including a number of alternative suggestions for solutions to providing affordable home to school transport. This is greatly welcomed and will be carefully and thoroughly considered by Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet in June 2018.

“I would like to thank everyone that has responded to the consultation so far and encourage those that haven’t to read the proposals and complete the survey at: by 28 February 2018. This is an opportunity for all Suffolk residents to have their say about how council tax is spent.”

See Friday’s Bury Free Press for a full report on the meeting.