End of the road for free school transport?: Hull City Council launches review
THE safety of hundreds of children will be jeopardised if plans to end free school transport go ahead, parents and teachers have warned.
Hull City Council says it needs to radically rethink its transport provision in the face of public sector cuts and is considering axing all free transport that is not a legal requirement.
Parents and teachers say the move will be damaging to education and will cause financial hardship to families already struggling.
They say it will put pupils’ safety at risk.
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Ged Fitzpatrick, headteacher at St Mary’s College – Hull’s only outstanding secondary school – said: “It is an absolute disgrace.
“We want to show how strongly we feel.
“The city is spending £400m on new schools, based on a transport strategy which allows access to these investments and enables families to choose what best suits their children.
“It is now ripping that transport strategy from underneath.
“It is an absolute nonsense. We are raising levels of attainment and attendance and improving behaviour. How does this support that? It doesn’t. It beggars belief.”
The city council has a legal duty to provide transport to pupils who go to their nearest school, but who live more than three miles away for
secondary pupils and two miles for primary pupils.
It also must also provide transport for children with special educational needs and low-income families – classed as those pupils on free school meals.
There are currently 1,900 pupils who get free transport, at a cost of about £386 each per year.
About half of them would be affected if all non-compulsory free transport is cut, meaning the council could save about £366,000.
But parents say as well as the added burden of the cost, they are worried about losing the dedicated bus services taking children directly to school, jeopardising safety.
Angela Martinson, headteacher at Newland School for Girls, is equally opposed to the plans.
She said: “I’m absolutely flabbergasted. Our school has always had a citywide catchment area.
“One of our selling points is children can get here from all over the city. I just can’t believe these proposals.”
Eve Laws, chairman of governors at the school, has two daughters there.
She said: “It will become a case of those who can afford to send their children and those who can’t. There are huge safeguarding issues.
“When you put them on a school bus it is an encapsulated environment, you know they are safe. If you put them on public transport, you don’t know that.”
It is not yet clear what would happen to the dedicated bus services should the free transport end, but one option would be for the school to commission buses and pass the cost directly to parents.
However, if just a few pupils were on the route, parents could be paying extortionate sums to get their children to school.
Hull City Council says another option is for parents to consider sending their children to their nearest school.
Vanessa Harvey-Samuel, city learning and skills manager, said: “We currently provide free school transport to pupils beyond our statutory duty.
“Our existing policy was drawn up many years ago when the educational landscape and statutory requirements were very different from today.
“Given budget pressures, the city council has to examine all expenditure very rigorously. Neighbouring local authorities have already reviewed and changed their policies.”