Parents take their protest on school bus changes to County Hall
- Credit: Su Anderson
Angry parents mounted a protest outside County Hall yesterday as they demonstrated against changes to school bus services.
Families from villages across Essex, including Rayne, Wivenhoe and Marks Tey, lobbied Essex County Council (ECC) members before a debate on the revised home-school transport policy.
A number of different local groups have now joined forces to form Essex Fights School Transport Cuts.
Some parents also addressed members in the council chamber before talks began on a Labour motion calling for the policy to be suspended pending a review.
However the council voted against any review of the policy.
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ECC launched a consultation in 2013 over proposed changes to the home to secondary school transport it offers in a bid to make savings.
Families who lived more than three miles from their catchment school were entitled to a free bus.
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The policy was amended to remove catchment areas, as academies can now set their own geographic admissions criteria, and to give an equal choice across the county of just one school.
From September the policy only allows free transport to a child’s nearest school with places, provided it is more than three miles away. Existing pupils are unaffected by the changes.
Parents in some areas now face paying up to £700 a year to send their child to the school they would traditionally go to, or where siblings may already go, if it is not their closest school.
Ray Gooding, county councillor for education, said: “The council’s school transport policy is in accordance with statutory responsibilities and establishes a consistent and equitable set of criteria across the county. There are also extended rights for low income families, as determined by law.
“The new policy was agreed in the spring of 2014 and publicised well in advance of parents applying for secondary school places for September 2015. All the admissions information made the new policy clear and advised parents to carefully consider it before making their school applications.”
But many of those affected say they were unaware of the change, which was after the information for existing parents.
Andrea Luxford-Vaughan, a parent and Wivenhoe town councillor, took part in the protest.
She said: “It is deliberately confusing and most parents don’t even know yet.
“The meeting was a farce and they would not even let a headteacher speak.
“The group will now have to decide what our next course of action is.”
Sam Tree, from Ardleigh, was unable to make the demonstration due to the school run.
Her child is due to go Manningtree High School, the village’s traditional catchment school, from September. But the family do not qualify for the free bus as they live 0.1 miles closer to the Colchester Academy.
She said: “It just seems so ludicrous. Children should be with their friends, on the bus, not in cars with parents which is what will happen.
“I am disappointed by the result, I was expecting a little bit more support.”
Bernard Jenkin, Harwich & North Essex MP, said: “This can’t be right. I think the policy should not stand, it should be suspended and reviewed until we can find a solution.
“I’m not convinced ECC will make any savings. Parents will send children to other schools, where the buses have to be paid for by ECC.”