'It's just so short-sighted' - Kedington parents face school transport dilemma
PUBLISHED: 19:00 20 June 2019
Parents in a Suffolk village are in "panic mode" after an appeal for free school transport was turned down as the local authority deemed a walking route across fields safe.
Children in Kedington who are starting at Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill in September are not eligible for council-funded travel as they live within three miles walking distance, according to Suffolk County Council's new school transport system.
But parents claim it is "ridiculous" to expect children to walk what they say is an "unsafe" route with ditches, a working farm and no lighting.
They appealed for free transport, but in its response to one parent, Jane Chamberlain, Suffolk County Council said the education transport appeals committee "agreed that, for a child pedestrian accompanied by a responsible adult, the route was not dangerous".
Mrs Chamberlain, whose daughter Lola, 11, will start at Samuel Ward in September, said: "I don't know what we are going to do. It's not reasonably practical for parents to walk five hours a day [in two round trips] to take their children to school."
The 43-year-old, who works full-time in a school office in Clare, also has to get her eight-year-old son Joel to Kedington Primary Academy.
The school transport cost for the family, who live 2.8 miles away from the secondary school, would be about £760 for Lola for a year, but there are others who would have to dig even deeper into their pockets.
"I have a friend in the village with five children. They are at primary school now, but once they have all gone up that could cost up to £5,000 a year," she said.
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Kevin Palmer has also appealed for his daughter Hazel, 11, to have free school transport and is yet to hear the decision, but suspects a similar response.
The 48-year-old, who works in pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, said: "I think we are in panic mode. We are trying to desperately work out how to get our kids to school in September.
"It's just so short-sighted of the council. I feel for them as well. Their budgets have been over the past few years and there's no-where else to go, but I think to put our kids' safety at risk to get to school is unacceptable."
He said from their house the walk over the fields to Samuel Ward is about 45 minutes, adding he didn't have a problem with children walking to school, but it had to be safe.
Suffolk County Council's letter to Mrs Chamberlain also said her work commitments and having children at different schools were not exceptional reasons to provide transport.
It added: "The committee considered that it should be possible for you to make other arrangements for both children to be accompanied to school and to arrange for the transportation of their school bags and equipment."
Mr Palmer said he knows of a grandmother who is considering quitting her job to be able to help her family out by taking her granddaughter to school.
In an email to West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock and Nicola Beach, the chief executive of Suffolk County Council, he said: "Instead of looking forward positively to the move to a new school, our students are instead worrying about how they are going to get there and if their parents will stay in work to be able to afford the cost."
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said after walking the Kedington to Samuel Ward Academy route in May the education transport appeals committee "concluded that the route was not dangerous and is therefore available for a child accompanied as necessary by a responsible adult".
"The next course of action for any appellant that believes the process has not been followed correctly would be to contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman," they added.