Parents get second jobs to pay for ‘disgraceful’ home-school transport in Essex

Parents and councillors from a number of Essex villages protested outside County Hall in Chelmsford

Parents and councillors from a number of Essex villages protested outside County Hall in Chelmsford in 2015 against cuts to home-school transport by Essex County Council. Picture: SU ANDERSON/ARCHANT - Credit: Su Anderson

Essex County Council last night refused to back down from its “disgraceful” new home-school transport policy despite fresh pressure from campaigners and hard-pressed families.

Some parents have been forced to get a second job to pay for school bus fares now costing up to £900 a year, a new survey found.

Action group Essex Against School Transport Cuts, which conducted the research, said they heard “heart-wrenching stories” over unsafe walking and cycling routes, dangerous congestion at the schools gates, overcrowded buses, and extra rush-hour traffic.

The amended home-school transport policy, introduced in September 2015, only allows free transport to a child’s nearest school with places – provided they live over three miles away (aged 8-16) or over two miles away (under eights) – instead of to any catchment school. The policy was amended to save money (just over £40,000 in two years) and remove old catchment areas.

Some 5,000 fewer children are now being transported to schools on free buses in Essex since 2012.

Suffolk County Council is also consulting residents on whether to introduce a similar new policy.

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In the survey, one parent wrote: “This two tier policy is creating social divide in rural areas and singling out those who cannot afford to pay. It is wholly unacceptable that areas have to pay to get to their catchment school when for generations transport has been provided.

“Our nearest school is 2.8 miles on a very dark, dangerous route.”

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One single mother said: “I am paying £900 every school year just to get my daughter to school. Completely disillusioned.”

Another said: “I’ve been outside the school at finishing time and it’s extremely dangerous.

Another added: “It’s disgraceful. No Chelmsford secondary schools can be safely walked to.”

Scott Wilson, of Essex Against School Transport Cuts, said: “We want Essex County Council to immediately suspend and review their policy, or start providing an annual school transport allowance to parents whose children live more than three miles away from their nearest school, together with regulated bus prices.”

Ray Gooding, education cabinet member at Essex County Council, said: “The policy change was made to ensure there is a consistent and equitable system. We have absolutely no intention of reviewing or changing the policy. Our savings are on track.”

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