Pupils give views on proposals to cut free school transport

Pupils from Thurston Community College are pleading with Suffolk County Councillors to help them kee

Pupils from Thurston Community College are pleading with Suffolk County Councillors to help them keep their free school transport. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Students at Thurston Community College were among the plethora of people queuing up to plead with Suffolk County Council not to cut free school transport.

The controversial transport consultation, launched in December, proposes only offering a free bus place to a child’s nearest school, meaning many schools would lose pupils and children would have to change schools.

Thurston Community College estimates 812 pupils would be affected, costing it up to £1.4m. Over 500 are thought to live closer to the nearby Ixworth Free School.

Headteacher Helen Wilson fears this will interrupt children’s education and potentially mean cuts to staff.

Before the meeting, Mrs Wilson said: “I invited all the county councillors, local MPs and transport officers to this event so that they could hear first hand from the people who will be affected.

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“And it’s not just our students. Also speaking, we have primary school children who now may not be able to travel here, parents who are worried about their children’s education, the Governers here at the school and Thurston and Beyton Parish Council.

“So many different people will be affected by this in different ways and it will do long lasting damage. I am so proud of my students who wrote incredibly well thought out arguments and who spoke from the heart.”

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Luke Green, 15, said: “I have a huge passion for science and wanted to come to Thurston because of the phenomenal lab facilities here. The school nearest to where I live doesn’t have anywhere near the same facilities so my future would be jeopardised.”

Ashley Baker, 14, said: “My future could be ruined. My nearest school is Ixworth and if I had to go there, I wouldn’t get the GCSE subjects I need to pursue my future career because they don’t offer them as GCSEs.”

Another student, Lilly Rodwell, 11, said: “This is horrific. You are making me miss the chance to pick my GCSEs. At my nearest school they do not offer psychology, sociology. You’re making me put aside my ambition and just take whatever they offer.”

Rebecca Rees, 14, said: “The council closed my school, Ixworth Middle, and I was given the choice to go to Thurston or Ixworth.

“What was the point in making me choose, if you were then just going to send me back?”

One primary school aged child who had hoped to go to Thurston next year warned the councillors in the audience, “We are future workers and we are future voters. If you betry our trust now, we will not forget it”. Suffolk County Council says the changes to school transport could save £3million from the £21 million home-to-school transport budget, but this figure has been widely disputed and even one of their own reports showed the amount of savings was more realistically going to be around £200,000.

The council launched a consultation on the move, which would involve scrapping bus services for children who attend schools which are not the closest to their home.

Currently, free school transport is available to children who live three miles from a school of their choice in their catchment area.

Around 3,700 students could be affected – and headteachers have warned the changes will drastically reduce pupil numbers as they transfer to other schools, and funding.

Cabinet member for education, Gordon Jones said the council’s consultation, which runs until February 28, is “a very clear and genuine pledge to listen”.

The consultation is assessing a number of scenarios including to “do nothing”, meaning savings would have to be found elsewhere, and an “incremental basis”, in which children who currently receive free transport would keep it but new starters would not. Councillor Gordon Jones, did not attend the meeting, but said in a statement: “We have already received an overwhelming amount of feedback, which demonstrates just how important the decision is that Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet will take in June 2018. I would like to thank everyone that has responded so far and encourage those that haven’t, to read the proposals and complete the survey at: www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel. This is an opportunity for all Suffolk residents to have their say about how council tax is spent.”

Education spokesman and Labour county councillor Jack Abbot, who was at the meeting said: “Parents are being faced with an impossible choice of either disrupting their child’s education and pulling them out of school, or finding the £900 extra a year it will now cost many of them to school.

“Thurston students should be very proud of themselves for taking such an active part in this campaign and stating their case so well. That being sad, it is very sad to think that children in Suffolk are so worried about their future and are having to effectively beg to not have their education disturbed.”

Green councillor, Andrew Stringer, who also attended said: “This is a hostile attack on rural communities. Suffolk is a rural county and many of the people we represent are just about managing. These proposals could tip them off the edge.”

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