Parents left without school transport just days before term starts

Thurston Community College's new multi-use sports pitch and car park has been approved Picture: GREG

Thurston Community College's new multi-use sports pitch and car park has been approved Picture: GREGG BROWN

Parents have been left high and dry after the number of seats on rural school buses was slashed - leaving them just days to arrange alternative transport.

Suffolk County Council controversially changed its school transport policy for 2019 which meant that only those who lived two miles or more from their nearest school - and attended that school and not another further afield - would qualify for funded transport.

The council agreed to sell spare seats on school buses to families who failed to meet this criteria to ensure they could continue sending their child to a school that was not their nearest, but seats are only offered for a term at a time.

Around 30 parents who had applied for seats for the autumn term were told on Tuesday that bus sizes on some routes had been reduced, leaving no spare seats that could be sold - giving them just over a week to make alternative arrangements for getting their child to school each day.

Fiona Macaulay has been a vocal campaigner against the new policy, which in the first two years has seen siblings split between different schools, and children from the same village being sent in different directions.

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She said on Tuesday she was told the spare seat application for her son Sam to travel from their home in Walsham le Willows to Thurston had been refused because the council had reduced the size of the bus from 70 seats to 60, meaning no spare seats were available on that route.

“We applied at the beginning of July and they have told us on August 24 – less than two weeks before the start of term.

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“There are at least 10 families in Walsham and Badwell Ash all served by this one bus [that now need to find alternatives].

“If we are all willing to pay £930 for the seat for the year, the cost between a 60 and 70 seater bus is negligible.

“It seems cruel, it seems vindictive and mean. They should hang their heads in shame.”

Ms Macualay said she plans to appeal the decision, and in the meantime may be left having to drive her son to school with no way of him getting home in the afternoon.

The council’s new education scrutiny committee is not due to review the school transport policy until 2024, with parents saying they were led to believe there would not be changes to spare seats in that time either.

Conservative cabinet member for education, Rachel Hood, said: “SCC has a statutory duty to transport all pupils who are eligible to SCC-funded school travel to school.

“When the buses on these routes are not at capacity, SCC can offer parents the option to purchase a spare seat where we are able to but, unfortunately, SCC cannot guarantee that a spare seat will be available.  This has always been the case with spare seats.

“Due to changing demand, and to ensure that school travel is operated efficiently, routes may have to be reviewed and amended at any time."

Andrew Stringer, leader of the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group said: “We have time after time asked for this to be revisited.

“If the policy had gone through and it was good it should be easy to work and easy to implement – it’s disproportionately affecting people, and most importantly is not helping with children’s education.”

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