Parents against school transport cuts launch new website to call for change
- Credit: Archant
Campaigners calling on the council to revisit its new school transport policy have created a platform for concerned parents to share their views.
The website, which aims to unite families affected by the changes, was unveiled at Thomas Gainsborough School (TGS), with dozens of children and parents in attendance.
Visitors will be able to find key facts about the proposals, read the blog and learn about upcoming events as part of a campaign against Suffolk County Council's (SCC) new policy.
Tristan Wood, whose children have been split up by the new system, said: "We are hearing more stories about the situation in places like Boxford, where families are having to send their children to three different schools because of the arbitrary method used to measure distance.
"It will split villages in half and divide siblings between two or three schools. Incredibly, instead of one bus for some villages there will need to be three. How they expect to save any money is beyond me.
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"There is still time for SCC to pull its collective head out of the sand. At the very least, they should postpone the implementation of this senseless policy and go back to the drawing board."
Emma Bishton, an education campaigner living in Nayland - one of the 'split villages', added: "We have already received several messages from parents from across Suffolk, highlighting the financial and environmental impacts of the new policy.
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"These include children being denied transport to their traditional catchment school which their siblings already attend, parents forced to give up work in order to drive children to school on roads not safe for walking, and parents not yet knowing which uniform to buy for September because they haven't yet heard back from the council about their application for transport.
"They describe a system in chaos, and stressed families left to bear the cost."
Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for education, said: "Once again, it is parents who are trying to find the solutions to a policy that has more holes in it than a sieve.
"It is time the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council faced up to the havoc they are causing and put a stop to this broken policy before it is too late."
The new website can be found here.
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?
Responding to a public question posed by Ms Bishton at a council meeting last month, Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, 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 email@example.com."