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Poll: Rural families express anger over £540 annual transport fee for further education – Should five-to-16 free transport be extended?

PUBLISHED: 11:07 05 September 2014 | UPDATED: 19:23 05 September 2014

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at SCC, said the authority understood the challenges rural families face but stressed they are unable to increase the £18milllion currently spent every year on home-to-school transport.

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at SCC, said the authority understood the challenges rural families face but stressed they are unable to increase the £18milllion currently spent every year on home-to-school transport.


Hundreds of families in rural communities in Suffolk face a yearly transport bill of £540 to keep their children in further education – prompting concerns they are being “penalised” compared to their urban counterparts.

More than 250 parents have signed a petition launched this week calling on Suffolk County Council (SCC) to “lead the way” in providing free home-to-school transport to students aged over 16.

It follows a change in the law last year stating all young people must stay in some form of education or training until they are 17. It increases to 18 next year.

They can stay in full-time education such as sixth form or college, sign up to apprenticeships or take up part-time education or training if they are employed, self-employed or volunteering full-time.

Last night, Louise Cullen, of Chelmondiston, near Ipswich, who launched the petition and has three daughters aged 12, 14 and 15, argued: “If education is compulsory then surely access to it must be free and fair.

“For many Suffolk rural families, especially those with children in consecutive year groups, twins or triplets, this is a cost they cannot afford.

“The whole system is dilapidated and needs a thorough review. I don’t blame Suffolk County Council as it is national government policy – but Suffolk can lead the way.”

Currently, for children aged eight or above, SCC provides free home-to school transport if they live three miles or more from the catchment school or nearest school.

But there is no entitlement for free home-to-school transport from the age of 16, and the government has not provided any further funding, according to the county council.

However, the authority offers a subsidised transport scheme for post-16 college or sixth form students – usually via public transport.

For this academic year, it costs £540 per student. This represents around 60% of the cost to the council. Travel is provided on a return basis and students are given a travel pass. It can be paid in three termly instalments of £180.

Last year it cost £510, and a payment of at least £570 has been provisionally set for next year.

Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at SCC, said the authority understood the challenges rural families face but stressed they are unable to increase the £18milllion currently spent every year on home-to-school transport.

She said additional financial support is available to families. The Government’s 16-19 Bursary Fund provides up to £1,200 bursaries for young people from poorer backgrounds. Under the scheme, schools and colleges can also offer bursaries to youngsters struggling financially, helping them with transport, meals and equipment costs.

Teenagers aged 16-19 can also apply for an ‘Endeavour Card’ – a SCC scheme offering a 25% discount off full-price adult bus fares.

There are 15,820 16-17-year-olds in Suffolk, the latest government data shows.

The petition says: “It is not fair to punish children and families for living in rural communities.”

Michele Lawrence, mother to 13-year-old triplets Matthew, Marcus and Claudia in Chelmondiston, will have to pay at least £1,600 every year for SCC’s subsidised transport scheme.

Mrs Lawrence said: “Where we live, we don’t have a choice. They get the free school bus to Holbrook Academy but the nearest sixth form is One; around five miles away.

“It is a bit of an oversight. Maybe they hoped no-one would flag it up.”

Mrs Chambers said: “Changes in the law mean that young people up to the age of 17, or 18 from next year, are required to stay in full or part time education, work-based training or take on an apprenticeship. The changes are not just about staying on at school.

“For those that choose to remain in full time education, there are a number of ways in which financial support is given to help them travel to and from their place of learning.

“These include subsidised bus passes, bursaries and the Endeavour Card which gives young people discounted travel. Schools and colleges also have funding which they can use to provide extra bursaries.

“There is no legal entitlement to home to school transport from the age of 16 and the government has not provided any further funding for it.

“Home to school transport already costs Suffolk taxpayers £18 million a year and extending this would add considerable, and unaffordable, costs.

“We understand the challenges of living in rural areas and sending young people to school – which is why we have these financial support arrangements in place.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The legal responsibility for transport to education and training for 16 to 19 year olds rests with councils, who are free to put in place appropriate arrangements and are expected to make reasonable decisions based on local need.

“Many young people have access to discounts on travel to education or training through their local authority, travel company or their school or college. In addition, our £180m Bursary Fund, available to schools and colleges to meet the needs of disadvantaged young people, is often used to help with transport costs.”

To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/suffolk-county-council-provide-bus-travel-for-16-year-olds-to-get-to-school


  • It is NOT compulsory to attend full-time education post 16. The legal school leaving age is still 16 and if they don't go parents will not be fined like they are up until the age of 16. Those aged 16-18 have to be in an educational setting, job or apprenticeship. Of course they can do none of these, which means they just can't claim any kind of benefit. The buses are heavily subsided as it is. In an ideal world all public transport would be free for those in education. Unfortunately, the world's far from ideal.

    Report this comment

    Ann Nother

    Tuesday, September 9, 2014

  • beerlover - I would be pleased to learn what you believe "all the advantages of living in the countryside" are. Perhaps you imagine some sort of idyllic setting where we all live in chocolate box cottages and keep chickens? The reality is that for many young people living on the peninsula (and in other rural areas around the country, not just Suffolk), it is not a CHOICE, it is simply that it's where they've been brought up. Are you suggesting that young people should be penalised instead? Jobs are few and far between in the rural hinterland and with bus services having been cut, any jobs that are available are often rendered harder to get to for young people; it is not as simple as just moving away from 'the countryside', particularly when circumstances change unexpectedly. Furthermore, I would like to know who you believe these 'other people' are that you object to assisting with the costs associated with travel to places of education. Perhaps you forget that 'countryside' people, including parents of young people who will still need to attend compulsory education, are also taxpayers and therefore contribute towards the transport that is provided to and enjoyed by those who live in more urban areas?

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    Sunday, September 7, 2014

  • Let's be clear: this isn't FURTHER education as in headline, it is COMPULSORY education. Note also that as Eton is a boarding school, Government ministers are unlikely to have to pay bus fees.

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    John Green

    Friday, September 5, 2014

  • I think you will find child benefit is to help with the costs of bringing up children. You cannot have everything for free someone has to pay for it. Free transport has got far to extensive and has lead to big cut in services as bus companies keep putting the fares up ever high for the few people that actually pay

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    Friday, September 5, 2014

  • I live in Felixstowe and like all students parents using laid on transport pay this yearly fee to get my child to college daily, it was my daughters choice to go there and although ide like to get it free as would we all. i am happy to pay to get them there safely and ontime, my main thought is how much i would be paying per term in petrol and im sure from felixstowe and back four times a day, drop of then home morning and afternoon, it would be alot more. I dont class felixstowe as a rural countryside setting, but there is no place for further educating of all types here meaning the children have no choice but look elsewhere.

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    Susan Duff

    Friday, September 5, 2014

  • I agree that every child should be able to attend school or sixth form college without the extra expense of transport costs. Many average wage families are finding it difficult and an extra cost to send your child to school or college (compulsory) may be a step to far and lead to an increase in truancy. Even though there are many elderly people feeling the pinch there are also many who have a free bus pass that are relatively well off. Surely we need to invest in our youth and give them the help they need.

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    Friday, September 5, 2014

  • It strikes me this isn't so much a case of being "penalised" as expecting the rest of us to subsidise them. It so often seems that people want to enjoy all the advantages of living in the countryside, but expect to have all the advantages of living in a town paid for by other people.

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    Friday, September 5, 2014

  • Here we have another 'short sighted' ill thought out policy from the Con Merchants !, as Ed Miliband asked Cameron in the House of Commons "was there anything he could organise in a Brewery" ?

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    Friday, September 5, 2014

  • It's time all free transport was stopped and all children and students were offered the same subsidised schemes for all local travel. Too many children travel further than necessary to receive their education and this isn't a sensible approach but if that is what parents choose then there is no reason why others should have to pay for their transport.

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    Friday, September 5, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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