Suffolk council confirms increase to post-16 school transport costs
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE
The cost of school bus places for those aged 16 and above heading to college or sixth form will increase by £90 from September.
Suffolk County Council's cabinet on Tuesday afternoon agreed changes to its post-16 school transport policy, which aimed to align it more closely with the policy for 5-16 year olds.
The key change enables students to travel to their nearest sixth form or college in Suffolk, even if they live nearer to an establishment over the border in Norfolk or Essex, while protection was also offered for students entitled from September 2019 to a sixth form or college in their priority area, in line with the 5-16 policy.
However a £90 cost increase for September 2021 was also approved.
That makes a seat £930 for a student for the year, or £750 for a child with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).
Conservative cabinet member for education, Mary Evans, said: "Both of these proposals are considered to bring significant learning for students by enabling them to remain with teaching staff who know them and vice versa, alongside the wellbeing benefits these young people will be joining sixth form alongside a group of longstanding friends."
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Mrs Evans said that the council did not receive any extra funding from the government for post-16 travel when it mandated that youngsters must stay in education or apprenticeships until 19.
She added: "What it means is the price is still not equivalent to the average cost, so the council taxpayers are underwriting that cost. If we leave it this year, the cost gets further away [in future]."
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She highlighted the bursary schemes available for low income families, and urged eligible families to apply.
A consultation was carried out in January and February on the changes, in which nearly 62% of respondents said the £90 price increase would have a considerable impact on them, while a further 22% said it would have a reasonable impact.
Jack Abbott, education spokesman from the opposition Labour group said: "It is wrong for the Conservatives to be hiking up the cost of post-16 transport by 10% at a time when thousands of families in Suffolk have seen their incomes drop.
“With families having to fork out nearly £1,000 per child, per year, they will be forced into cars or will make their post-16 choices based on money, not their education. That is fundamentally wrong; we should be looking to support students so they get to the right 6th form or college, not restricting their chances
Penny Otton from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said she welcomed the council's continued provision of post-16 transport, but added: "It's a well known fact 27% of families have seen a fall in income for their families, so even with the bursaries available was there any consideration of putting this on hold for at least 12 months until such time as maybe those people who are having serious problems with their earnings [are better placed]?"