Out-of-catchment sixth form students get DIY bus for school journeys

Zoe White has come to the rescue of stranded sixth-form students. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Zoe White has come to the rescue of stranded sixth-form students. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

A single-minded mother has come to the rescue of sixth form students by setting the wheels in motion on a DIY school bus route.

Zoe White in the driving seat of the bus. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Zoe White in the driving seat of the bus. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Zoe White’s 16-year-old son, Ollie, attended Debenham High School before choosing to study A-levels at Farlingaye, in Woodbridge.

With the county council no longer providing discretionary transport for sixth-formers at schools outside the catchment area, Debenham pupils applying to Farlingaye faced a dilemma.

Mrs White, a social worker, approached several companies – and Framlingham’s Thompsons Coaches agreed to help.

In the past, the Helmingham to Otley road was a concern for parents of students driving under their own steam. Although families looked into sharing lifts, they were also worried about adding to traffic and increasing congestion around Farlingaye.

Zoe White has come to the rescue of stranded sixth-form students. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Zoe White has come to the rescue of stranded sixth-form students. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Mrs White, from Occold, said: “We felt our children were being penalised because they don’t have a sixth-form and they live in a rural area.

“There is no public transport from Debenham to Woodbridge and the school transport system seems to be closed to us.

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“Suffolk Norse [the county’s bus and coach operator], said it could not help, even if we paid the full price for a place, and the council’s argument is, I guess, that there are other good state schools in our area. But, as a parent, your duty is to do the best thing for your child, particularly at this stage in their education. We want to enable our children to get to get to the school of their choice, safely.”

The new route will include a stop for students in Framlingham and Wickham Market. It welcomes any student attending school in Woodbridge, but places will be on a first come, first served basis.

Mrs White said: “The new bus route is un-subsidised, so currently comes in at £367.50 per term [about £5 a day], but we still have places on the bus.

“We know some parents will struggle with this cost initially but, if we can fill the bus up, the fares will become cheaper. If there is enough demand, we may be able to arrange for a bigger bus.

“We are also going to try and raise money to subsidise the prices for individual students, at least in the first year.

“Thompsons has been incredibly supportive, and we desperately want to make it work.

“We are in the process of setting up a website, and any local businesses who support us will be prominently thanked.”