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Tiny village 'split in two' by new school transport system

PUBLISHED: 07:30 28 May 2019

Justin Dowding and Tanya Page have children affected by Suffolk County Council's new school transport system  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Justin Dowding and Tanya Page have children affected by Suffolk County Council's new school transport system Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A tight knit village has been torn in two by the council's controversial new transport system, with some children assigned a school miles away from home - despite having next to no means of getting there.

Justin Dowding and Tanya Page by their local bus stop in Nayland   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJustin Dowding and Tanya Page by their local bus stop in Nayland Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Children in Nayland, which is situated in councillor Gordon Jones' ward, have traditionally studied at Thomas Gainsborough School (TGS) near Sudbury, with the majority of Year 6 students making the transition together.

It is a system that parents say works very well - as Nayland Primary serves as a feeder school for TGS, with a number of joint events held throughout the year to help pupils prepare for life at secondary school.

There is also a bus that runs directly from Nayland to TGS on a daily basis, meaning very few parents choose to send their children elsewhere.

However, following the introduction of Suffolk County Council's new transport system, the village has been split cleanly in two - with a handful of students now told they must attend Hadleigh High School if they still wish to benefit from free travel, despite the fact that no direct transport links currently exist.

If children from Nayland were to head to Hadleigh on a daily basis, they would need to get at least two buses every morning, with the journey totalling in excess of two and a half hours. There is no route by public transport that would get them to school on time.

There is an option to use Hadleigh Community Transport, but this is a request service only. It is not clear whether this could be run on a daily basis.

The children in Nayland have traditionally attended Thomas Gainsborough School in Great Cornard Picture: JIM STEPHENSONThe children in Nayland have traditionally attended Thomas Gainsborough School in Great Cornard Picture: JIM STEPHENSON

If they want to send their children to TGS instead of Hadleigh High, affected families will have to fork out £750 per year or £250 per term for each child.

'Unjust and bizarre'

The change has been branded "unjust and bizarre" by parents, who say the council will actually end up paying more, boosting pollution levels, and piling unnecessary stress on the children affected.

Emma Bishton, who lives in Nayland and has a daughter at TGS, quizzed Gordon Jones on the issue at the annual Suffolk County Council (SCC) full council meeting on Thursday, May 23.

When confronted about the potential for increased costs and unnecessary environmental impacts in split villages, Mr Jones said parental choice had always been a factor in Suffolk, and the council would broker "local solutions" - for example lift shares, children cycling or schools offering their own transport - in cases where there is no entitlement to free travel.

He did not specify how the children sent to Hadleigh High would make it to school each day, but parents have suggested the council would need to fund a new taxi or minibus service to transport them, thus racking up further costs.

A handful of children in Nayland are now being told they can only access free school transport to Hadleigh High Picture: ROBERT EDWARDSA handful of children in Nayland are now being told they can only access free school transport to Hadleigh High Picture: ROBERT EDWARDS

In her follow-up question, Ms Bishton said school choice is "not the issue here" as TGS "has always been our local secondary school and transport arrangements are in place accordingly".

She said local solutions "do not apply in this instance" as the county would be obliged to provide two buses, going in different directions, instead of one - as happens currently, adding: "Are you comfortable with delivering a policy that has split into two the village in which we both live?"

Mr Jones responded by reiterating he believes Nayland "is a split village", and always has been - as he knows families that send their children to schools in Colchester.

'This could cost me up to £2,000 per year'

Justin Dowding's 10-year-old son Yosuke is one of two children from Nayland who are expected to attend Hadleigh High from September if they wish to use free school travel.

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He said: "I've been told that my son is not eligible for free transport to Thomas Gainsborough School because we are just the wrong side of an arbitrary cut off line, so I would have to apply for paid transportation to TGS.

"In fact, TGS is the nearest school to where I live if you measure it by transportation methods. It is significantly nearer.

"The measurement is apparently done as the crow flies, which of course is not how you actually get there."

He added: "The biggest problem is it divides a village into two, which is really sad. There is a real community for this village, the children have all gone to school together, they know each other well, and suddenly by this policy they are going to be split up - which will upset the children greatly.

"And for myself, I've got two children. By the time the second child is taking transportation, that will be the best part of £2,000 that we have to pay for being in the wrong street. This is an unaffordable amount of money."

His thoughts were echoed by Tanya Page, mum to Mackensie - the other Year 6 child affected by the new policy.

"I can see the bus stop from my house," she said.

"To be told that the village has been divided and if he wants a free bus it would be going to a different school to where all his friends are - it's just not an option.

"The amount of money that they want for the bus pass for the year I cannot actually afford."

How does the new system work?

According to the new policy, children over the age of 11 are entitled to free travel if their 'nearest school' is more than three miles away.

In Nayland, this means all children east of Bear Street, measured from roughly halfway down the road, will be expected to attend Hadleigh High from September.

The council website states that the nearest schools have been calculated by measuring walking distances using the Ordnance Survey Integrated Transport Network, which includes all roads and urban paths, and public rights of way.

However, parents say Hadleigh is only closer 'as the crow flies' - as the journey time by bus would actually work out as considerably longer. This is largely because no direct transport links currently exist.

What does the council have to say?

When asked for comment, SCC repeated Mr Jones' response from the meeting on Thursday.

He said: "The School Travel Policy enables a consistent and sustainable travel approach for the future and provides equality and consistency for Suffolk's parents and Suffolk's schools.

"As part of the feedback from the consultation, split villages were considered, but it was concluded that there were already many instances of villages where children attended a different school as a result of parental choice. Our Passenger Transport team will continue to review routes as we move forward to ensure that the most efficient and cost effective contracts possible are in place.

"We really believe that there are opportunities for parents and schools to collaborate to provide a solution that works for both parties if there is no entitlement to council-funded travel. These could form a wide range of options, for example, parents offering lift shares, children cycling to school or schools offering their own transport.

"We hope that parents choose the most sustainable way of getting their child to school. Suffolk County Council is happy to broker potential solutions for parents and schools and, if parents discover their children are not eligible for funded travel, they can contact the Suffolk Brokerage Service for support. The team can be emailed at passenger.transport@suffolk.gov.uk."

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