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School bus shake-up could hit thousands of families across Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 00:37 05 September 2017 | UPDATED: 10:31 05 September 2017

Suffolk's school buses are facing major changes. Picture: JAMES HARGRAVE

Suffolk's school buses are facing major changes. Picture: JAMES HARGRAVE

Archant

Suffolk’s school bus service is facing a major shake-up as the county council seeks to cut costs over the next two years.

The authority is looking to cut £3m from the £21m budget for home-to-school transport – and it is planning to cut free school transport for up to 3,700 children in the county.

It is likely to target free transport offered to children who travel to a school that is not the nearest to their homes – and the proposals are to be the subject of a consultation period between October and December.

The council says that the children affected make up about 3.5% of the county’s school population up to 16 years old.

If the proposals do go ahead after the consultation period they would be implemented in September 2019 for the start of the 2019/20 academic year.

The proposed consultation will be discussed by the county council’s cabinet at its meeting next Tuesday.

The report that has been prepared for the meeting says that 88% of families (93,000 children) make their own arrangements to get to school.

Almost all those who would be affected by the changes live in rural parts of Suffolk because in the large towns the distance that children have to travel is below the minimum required for home to school transport.

There is a statutory requirement to provide free transport for children who live more than two miles from school (for under-eights) or three miles for those aged between eight and 16.

But legally the council only has to provide transport to the nearest school, not to the school that parents have chosen.

The report says that an inconsistent policy has developed over the years with transport being provided for some out-of-catchment schools but not others – opening up the council to the accusation that some families are being treated unfairly.

A total of 6,100 children (5.6% of the school population) would continue to get free transport to their nearest school and a further 1,700 children with special educational needs (1.6% of the school population) would continue to get free transport to schools that can offer them the special attention they need.

Similar changes to travel to school rules have been introduced by other local authorities recently – including Essex County Council.

Bury St Edmunds and rural parts of county affected by bus changes

Pupils at St Benedict’s at Bury St Edmunds are likely to become a special case because it is a split-site school and there are also likely to be other special arrangements in the town because it is the last part of Suffolk where there is still a three-tier school system.

The report acknowledges it will be families in small villages who are affected most by the changes: “From our modelling and analysis work, there is an adverse impact on those living in rural locations in Suffolk.”

It adds: “There are some areas of Suffolk where there is no school within two or three miles. However, if free travel is important to a family then they will need to ensure that they apply for their nearest school to qualify.”

The changes apply to pupils up to the age of 16 – there is no statutory duty to provide free school transport for sixth-form students, but the council would continue to develop the Endeavour Card which gives travel discounts to those up to 20 years old.

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