Decision due on plans to scrap free school buses

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A DECISION surrounding controversial plans to scrap free buses to and from faith schools is set to be made by senior councillors.

Hartlepool Borough Council is considering proposals to axe £133,000 of denominational transport funding in a move which would affect 340 pupils at English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College, in Catcote Road, and around 30 at St Teresa’s RC Primary School.

The decision had been taken to scrap it earlier this year, but a last-minute budget amendment ensured the transport would remain in place for this academic year.

But now senior councillors are set to make a decision on Monday, November 19.

Michael Lee, headteacher at English Martyrs School has previously hit out at the plans saying it has been a “very worrying” time for parents adding that any proposal to withdraw transport would have a “devastating impact” on some families.

Councillors are asked to either approve plans to reconfirm cabinet’s previous decision to withdraw denominational home to school transport from September 2013 in a bid to save £133,000.

They could also agree not to go-ahead with the withdrawal and to instead find the £133,000 budget savings from somewhere else.

A consultation exercise revealed 98.3 per cent of people, or 581, were against the proposal to axe the transport funding and it also found that if the cabinet axed the funding then 88 per cent were in favour of the council arranging transport and charging a concessionary fare, with the rest in favour of arranging their own transport.

Hartlepool Council is considering the transport because it is not a statutory requirement.

But the council does have a statutory duty to provide home-to-school transport for secondary school pupils whose school is more than three miles away from their home and for primary school pupils whose school is more than two miles from their home.

In addition, the council has a statutory responsibility to provide free transport to those pupils who are from low income families.

A report by Peter McIntosh, head of planning and development, said: “In the secondary sector at present, 383 pupils at English Martyrs’ School are provided with free travel to and from school with 44 of these pupils being from low income families.

“In the primary sector, 33 pupils at St Teresa’s School are provided with free travel to and from school.

“The removal of this non-statutory provision would provide a saving in the region of £133,000 p.a, this funding is currently supporting families who live within the statutory mileage criteria or who have not made application to the nearest school.”

The recommendations made by cabinet will go before the full council.

Transport on the grounds of religion or belief under Section 509 of the Education Act 1996 is provided on a discretionary basis, which means it either doesn’t need to be implemented or can be discontinued.

The cabinet is due to meet at 9.30am in the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.