Fury at £300 charge for school bus

By Juliette MaxamSTUDENTS and parents are to demonstrate against a plan to charge pupils £300 a year for school transport.Essex County Council wants to bring in a new school transport charge for children at denominational schools as a cost-cutting measure in an effort to reduce the £28million school transport budget.

By Juliette Maxam

STUDENTS and parents are to demonstrate against a plan to charge pupils £300 a year for school transport.

Essex County Council wants to bring in a new school transport charge for children at denominational schools as a cost-cutting measure in an effort to reduce the £28million school transport budget.

But Catholic schools and families across the county are outraged at the proposals, which they have described as a Catholic education tax.


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Parents and students from St Benedict's College in Colchester will be taking protest letters and petitions to County Hall in Chelmsford on Tuesday.

They are also hoping to lobby cabinet members who are due to make a final decision about the charge next month.

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St Benedict's College principal, Alan Whelan, will take part in the protest, along with the school's chairman of governors.

Its head boy, Daniel Bassett, has also written to Essex County Council education portfolio holder, Iris Pummell, inviting her to talk to the student council to explain the proposal and answer questions.

“I believe that, as a person, I have right to know and be involved in decisions made by the county council that will affect me,” he said.

Mrs Pummell said Daniel should have received an acknowledgement to his letter, but added during this kind of consultation councillors did not go to meetings as they were invited to so many.

“It's our budget situation right across the whole council. There's no decision yet. If the decision is to charge, transport will still be there, we'll just be asking parents to make a contribution,” she added.

Mrs Pummell said parents who sent their children to non-denominational secondary schools outside of their catchment area had complained they were being discriminated against because they currently paid for home-to-school transport.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Rev Thomas McMahon, is also writing to all MPs in Essex asking for their support in opposing the proposal.

Bishop Thomas said: “These charges will mean that, for many parents, a Catholic education is far too expensive for their family.

“Many Catholic families have three or more children and if most of them are of secondary school age, the charges will become a great burden.

“The effect of this proposal will be to deny those in the greatest need the opportunity for a Catholic education for their children.”

He added: “The spirit of the 1944 Education Act was that, as the Catholic Church was a significant provider of schools in the maintained system, their pattern of distribution would be made on the understanding that local education authorities would provide free home-to-school transport.

“Unfortunately, the wording of the Act categorises this arrangement as 'discretionary'. There are some shire counties already ceasing to honour the spirit of that Act by declining to provide transport.”

Bishop Thomas said if the charge was brought in, parents would probably resort to taking their children to school by car - contrary to Government wishes for children to go to school on foot or by public transport - or else send the children to non-Catholic schools.

juliette.maxam@eadt.co.uk

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