School buses U-turn hailed

Michael Lee celebrates with pupils
Michael Lee celebrates with pupils
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A HEADTEACHER has welcomed moves to shelve controversial plans to axe funding for free buses to and from faith schools.

Michael Lee, headteacher at English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College, in Catcote Road, said the move by councillors removes the “anxiety” for parents and pupils.

Hartlepool Borough Council was considering axing £125,000 of funding in a move which would affect 340 pupils at the school.

But a last-minute budget amendment agreed will see the transport continue for at least the next financial year.

Around 25 staff and students from the school cheered from the public gallery when the decision was made at a full council meeting.

Mr Lee said: “I am pleased that the council has decided to fund the transport for at least one more year.

“The councillors listened to the concerns and I believe have taken the sensible step.

“There has been a lot of anxiety with people not knowing what the situation was going to be next year.

“Students did not know whether they would have transport to and from school next year and parents of primary school children did not know if they would be getting transport next year.

“It has been very worrying.”

Mr Lee added that any proposal to withdraw transport in the future would have a “devastating impact” on some families.

Despite councillors agreeing to keep running the service, a consultation to decide the long-term future is ongoing.

A report is due to go before cabinet in March and then to the full council to see what the long-term future holds.

At the full council meeting, independent councillors Paul Thompson and Mike Turner originally called for money set aside for new ward budgets to be used to fund the service.

But it was eventually agreed to fund it from the Job Evaluation Appeal Reserve after a proposal from the Labour Group.

Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said he did not want any parent leaving the meeting thinking councillors did not have the parents best interests at heart.

Coun Turner said: “We were happy as long as we knew the funds were in place.

“The issue will come back next year and I think we have to look seriously at the way school transport is funded nationally.”

Coun Thompson added: “We have to do what we can to remove these barriers to education.

“For it to be put on parents that English Martyrs is a school of choice when for them it is a school of faith is two very different things.

“I am delighted that the transport budget for faith schools was reintroduced.”

The transport was being considered 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.