DELIGHTED pupils are celebrating after controversial plans to scrap free buses to and from faith schools were shelved.
Hartlepool Borough Council was considering axing £133,000 of denominational transport funding in a move which would have affected almost 400 pupils at two town schools.
But senior councillors on the cabinet committee have scrapped the plans and told senior officers to find the budget cuts from elsewhere, to the delight of
staff and students at English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College and St Teresa’s RC Primary School.
The council, which needs to save between £18m and £20m over the next five years, was considering the faith transport because it is not a statutory requirement.
But Michael Lee, headteacher at English Martyrs School, said: “I am delighted and relieved that the cabinet committee has seen sense and parents of both schools will be relieved the current service is being maintained.
“It has been a worrying time for everyone, especially the parents.”
Around 340 pupils at English Martyrs and 33 at the primary school would have been affected from September 2013 if the transport had been cut.
Ahead of the meeting, a consultation revealed 98.3 per cent of people, or 581, were against the plans.
Mr Lee, who spoke at the meeting, said that was an emphatic response and the people should be listened to.
He added: “If you go against, then there needs to be a pretty strong argument in order to do so, that argument is contained in the report but I don’t think it is a strong argument.
“I can’t think of any front line service that is more important than getting children to school and getting children to the school of their choice.”
If it had been axed it would also have meant 22 pupils facing an unsafe walking route to school.
Mr Lee added: “I don’t need to spell out the implications if anything where to happen to those students.”
He argued it also wasn’t fair to change the arrangements of parents whose children are halfway through their time at the school and the potential impact on admissions.
The original decision to scrap the transport had been taken earlier this year, but a last-minute budget amendment ensured the transport would remain in place for this academic year.
But now the council’s cabinet committee has changed its mind.
Mary Frain, headteacher at St Teresa’s RC Primary School, said: “I am very pleased and relieved that we have had the support of the councillors and the mayor on this issue.”
During the cabinet meeting, Miss Frain said the consultation had been heavily focused on the impact on secondary school children and said it wasn’t until three weeks ago that the impact on her school was made clear in cabinet papers.
Miss Frain told councillors her school and parents had been treated “unfairly”.
Figures showed 33 pupils at the school benefit from home-to-school transport, including 32 through denominational eligibility and one because of an unsafe walking route.