Fares on the way for Catholic pupils

By Rebecca SheppardPUPILS will no longer have free transport to Catholic schools, but charging will be deferred for a year and phased in.Suffolk County Council's executive committee agreed yesterday to start charging for the cost of home-to-school transport for Roman Catholic voluntary-aided schools.

By Rebecca Sheppard

PUPILS will no longer have free transport to Catholic schools, but charging will be deferred for a year and phased in.

Suffolk County Council's executive committee agreed yesterday to start charging for the cost of home-to-school transport for Roman Catholic voluntary-aided schools.

Parents will have to make a contribution to the transport costs, but only from September 2005 if their children are new pupils to Roman Catholic primary, middle or high schools.

The move comes after the Diocese of East Anglia criticised the council for discriminating against parents who sent their children to one of the nine Catholic schools in Suffolk.

Diocese officials warned parents would take their children out of the schools in protest at the charging policy.

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The council introduced the move, which will see families paying about £87 a term for their child's trip to and from school, in an effort to recoup £195,000 after there was a 2% cut in the education budget.

County councillor Tony Lewis, portfolio holder for children and young people, said the decision would allow the authority to give families more than a year's notice that a charge would be introduced and it would be phased in over time.

It will mean parents of students already in one of the six primary, one middle or two secondary Roman Catholic schools in the 2004-05 school year will not have to pay a charge until their child changes school.

Mr Lewis added: “In order to make the level of savings required by the council's budget strategy this year - responding to residents' wishes to keep council tax as low as possible - we will have to identify reductions in other areas of the education budget.

“This will not be easy as home-to-school transport is 40% of the total local education authority budget.

“My overriding principle as portfolio holder for children and young people is to ensure that all young people are treated as fairly and equitably as possible. “Therefore, I feel it is right that parents who choose to send their children to a Roman Catholic school make a contribution towards the cost of transport, as other parents who choose to send their children to a non-catchment school have to.”

Dennis McGarry, headteacher of St Alban's High School in Ipswich, said: “We are pleased that existing parents will not have the worry of affording transport costs for their children.

“We are aware that the county council have had many issues to balance and they have listened to the views expressed by our parents, the schools and the diocese.

“In the future, each family can make its own decision as to where to send their children at the time of changing schools and this removes the immediate concern about school numbers.”

Diocese representative, Paul McIntee, said: “Democracy has been shown to work. The council passed the decision that it would introduce charges and left implementation after a consultation.

“Lots of views have been expressed and it is obvious that the outcome has taken into account fully the views raised.”

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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