Council halves number of outstanding applications to 472 a week ahead of new term starting

PUBLISHED: 14:26 27 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:00 27 August 2019

Changes to school bus services have proved controversial in Suffolk. Picture: R.A FOWLER

Changes to school bus services have proved controversial in Suffolk. Picture: R.A FOWLER

Under fire education chiefs in Suffolk say decisions have been made on applications from all eligible families which applied for school transport on time.

Gordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for education Picture: SCC/SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHYGordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for education Picture: SCC/SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY

Suffolk County Council, which has been criticised for its new school transport policy, had 940 outstanding home to school transport applications last week.

However, as of this morning, it had reduced that to 472, with 442 having been completed over the last five working days.

According to the council, the option for parents to purchase spare seats on routes which were not to their nearest school could only be allocated after GCSE results, and said a further 178 applications had been made in the last week - on top of the 783 already received after the May 31 deadline.

Those outstanding applications are either late requests, appeals, or spare seat allocations, according to a council spokesman.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Penny Otton said it had been a Liberal Democrat Cllr Penny Otton said it had been a "chaotic" process. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Councillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for children's services education and skills, said: "I am pleased to confirm that at this point every child whose application was received on time and who is entitled to SCC funded school travel has received confirmation of their application outcome. All current pupils who remain entitled to SCC funded school travel have also had their seats confirmed.

"I know from having taken calls first-hand alongside the team during the application process, that there are a small number of applications where specific circumstances need further analysis and review.

"These cases are being treated with care to ensure the correct outcome is reached, this may mean that some families are not eligible for SCC funded travel who think they should be.

"In these cases we are working hard to find possible solutions which may include them purchasing a spare seat if one is available.

Cllr Jack Abbott said there had been no apology to parents affected. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCllr Jack Abbott said there had been no apology to parents affected. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"There is also an active appeals process continuing for a number of cases so I must respect that process and allow all judgements to be made correctly.

"I do understand the frustration of families who may feel they have not had the outcome they expected but I also know that many families are working together with their schools and the council to come up with potential local solutions to share transport costs or find alternative transport arrangements where possible."

The news comes ahead of a public meeting taking place in Nayland this evening, organised by parent campaigners, where families affected by the new school transport policy can raise issues.

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The first year of the new policy starts this September, where children will only receive funded home to school transport to their nearest school if it is two miles or more away.

Parents who wish to send their child to another school can opt to purchase a spare seat on bus services, or organise their own alternative travel arrangements.

But the council came under fire after it emerged many parents had yet to find out just days before the new term starts on September 2 whether their applications had been successful, while others reported that incorrect passes had been sent.

There have also been issues reported with the online nearest school checker and some instances of parents being told they may have to arrange their own transport for the first few weeks of term because their application won't be processed in time.

Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for education at Suffolk County Council said: "It's hardly a cause for celebration that nearly 500 families still do not know the status of their school transport application, just days before the start of the new school term.

"Suffolk County Council's school transport team have worked hard to implement a dreadful policy with limited resources. They didn't cause this mess and have been dealt an impossible hand by the Conservatives 'running' the council.

"It'll come as no surprise to anyone that there is still no acknowledgement of the chaos that these cuts have caused. Still no acceptance of any responsibility. Still no apology for the stress and anxiety that families have been put under this summer.

"This is not how a council should operate - people deserve so much better than this."

Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group at the council, said: "Although this is progress, it's too little too late from Suffolk County Council - 472 children still don't know how they're going to be getting to school next week. I can't imagine how stressful this must be for their families.

"When the administration pushed through this policy last year, we warned them it would be incredibly disruptive.

"Despite having over a year to prepare, they still haven't managed the transition properly.

"This whole process has been chaotic and completely unprofessional, and families in Suffolk are understandably outraged at the way they have been treated."

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