MPs from Suffolk ask for siblings to go to same schools on transport

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge. Picture: OFFICE OF JAMES CARTLIDGE

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge. Picture: OFFICE OF JAMES CARTLIDGE - Credit: Archant

Six Suffolk MPs have urged the government to require education authorities to offer siblings places on the same school bus in a bid to change the county’s controversial pupil transport policy.

The Department for Education launched a consultation into school transport across the country last autumn, before the general election. The six MPs – all Conservatives and representing seats with many rural communities – urged the government to include the sibling rule in its guidelines to education authorities.

That had been a major bone of contention as Suffolk County Council drew up new proposals for home to school transport.

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge – one of the signatories of the letter – raised the issue during Questions to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this week.

He asked when the results of the consultation would be published so the MPs would know whether Suffolk had to take the siblings issue into account when deciding on school transport applications.

Mr Williamson said the work on the consultation had been delayed first by the General Election and the weeks of purdah that preceded it, and then by the Coronavirus Crisis which had led to the closure of schools across the country.

He said he hoped to be able to respond to the consultation “in the near future” but was not able to say exactly when that would be.

Mr Cartlidge said: “I know this might look like a strange time to raise an issue like this, but I think it is a good time because there are families all over Suffolk who will be expecting their children to go back to school in the autumn and need to know about this.

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“With children going to state schools in South Suffolk myself, I know how important this is for families. If the government do make keeping siblings together a requirement, then they will have to say what support they will offer education authorities to comply with that.”

Suffolk County Council deputy leader and cabinet member for young people Mary Evans said it was important that if the government did change the rules on sibling travel, it would have to support education authorities who arranged transport to schools.

And she added: “Now that many schools are academies and not run by local education authorities it might be better if the government came up with a way they could arrange the transport of their pupils rather than leaving it with education authorities.”

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