Council to charge for school transport

By Juliette MaxamCAMPAIGNERS have lost their battle against the introduction of a £300-a-year charge for school buses for pupils at denominational schools.

By Juliette Maxam

CAMPAIGNERS have lost their battle against the introduction of a £300-a-year charge for school buses for pupils at denominational schools.

A special meeting of Essex County Council decided yesterday to introduce a charge for home-to-school transport for pupils starting denominational schools in September 2004.

The charge will be £100 a pupil per term, but large families with three children attending secondary denominational schools will not be charged for more than two places.

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It was bitterly opposed by teachers, pupils, parents and churches, who described it as a “Catholic education tax”. Hundreds protested outside County Hall and held a “prayer vigil” before the meeting began.

Alan Whelan, principal at St Benedict's College in Colchester, who took a minibus of students to the meeting, said: “This is a major disappointment. I had no optimism that the council would listen.”

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He added one parent would be going to the Local Government Ombudsman, accusing Essex County Council of maladministration, and another was planning to mount a legal challenge using human rights legislation.

Iris Pummell, the cabinet member for education, said: “During the consultation process we sent out 25,000 letters and received 1,500 responses from the public, including parents, schools, church authorities and Essex councils.

“Our revised proposals will allow existing students to continue to enjoy free transport until after their GCSE exams when they are 16, while new students will be subsidised by 60% of their average travel costs.”

Julie Young, a Labour county councillor who has fought against the proposal, said the decision was “extremely disappointing” and felt it was “a direct attack on Catholics”.

Ken Jones, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the county council, added: “Having made such an awful mess of the consultation, the proposals should be withdrawn and a fundamental review of school transport should be embarked on.”

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