Head warns bus cuts will affect pupils

A HEADTEACHER says plans to withdraw funding for some school transport will lead to vulnerable children suffering and ultimately a drop in pupil numbers at his school.

Durham County Council is consulting parents over a review of its home to school/college transport provision, as the local authority tries to save £125m from its budget over the next four years.

Proposed changes include stopping free transport to faith schools except where there are legal requirements, raising the distance limit for providing transport from two to three miles for children aged over eight and stopping free transport for pupils in some communities to attend particular schools.

If the changes went ahead, they would save £5.5m and apply from September 2012.

But Paul McKenna, headteacher of St Bede’s Catholic Comprehensive School, in Westway, Peterlee, where 41 per cent of pupils are bussed in from neighbouring areas, has blasted the plans.

He said: “The Government have always tried to give parents choice about which schools they send their children to.

“If they just cut free transport to Catholic schools clearly their idea of free choice has gone out of the window.

“At the end of the day, pupils’ education is important.

“But it seems vulnerable children are being made more disadvantaged than they have ever been.

“Without a doubt pupil numbers at this school will drop and there is equally a danger that Catholic schools will absorb non-Catholics living nearby.”

He said council officers who proposed the cuts, “hadn’t done their sums” as pupils will still need some form of transport and this would be impossible due to cuts in public bus services.

Mr McKenna has sent out letters urging parents to make their views known.

Other planned changes include stopping the help provided for young people over-16 to get to school or college, except where they are not able to travel independently and charging for spare seats on buses and taxis for those children not entitled to a free seat.

A spokeswoman for Durham County Council said: “We are currently consulting with parents and the wider education community on a number of important changes which may affect our home to school/college transport policy to gauge how people feel and to help us understand the impact any changes would have.

“All of the possibilities being considered relate to services which we are not required by law to provide, including transport to faith schools.

“This is not something we are doing lightly but like many issues is the result of the large reductions in Government grant we face.”

The consultation closes on May 10.

To have your say, visit www.durham.gov.uk/transportconsultation and fill in the form.

Alternatively hard copies are available from The Admissions and Transport Entitlement Team, Children and Young People’s Services, Durham County Council, County Hall, Durham, DH1 5UJ.

They should be returned to the same address before the closing date.

For help call (0191) 3834490.