‘I can’t contemplate it’ – New school transport system splits family THREE ways
- Credit: Archant
A single mother from Boxford could be forced to send her children to three different schools once the council’s new school transport system comes into force.
Emma Rose, mum to Morgan, Charley and Sydnee, had always expected her girls would attend Thomas Gainsborough School (TGS) in Great Cornard - after all, the bus stops in Boxford every morning, and the local primary has been a feeder school for decades.
So she was shocked to learn that, following the implementation of the council's new school transport system, she would only qualify for free travel if Morgan continued at TGS, Charley started at Hadleigh High, and she walked Sydnee, her youngest, to Boxford Primary once she started school.
This would mean three sets of uniform, three school runs, and three combinations of extra-curricular activities, parents' evenings and school trips.
The 35-year-old single mum went to Boxford Primary and Great Cornard Upper School (now TGS) herself, and says the majority of children in her village have "always" gone to Thomas Gainsborough.
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"My parents did as well," she said.
"TGS have always integrated with Boxford Primary School.
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"Why change something that has worked for 30 to 40 years?"
Ms Rose says she will struggle to afford the £750 yearly charge for a spare seat on the bus to TGS, and may therefore have to drive Charley to school on a daily basis.
Once Sydnee starts at primary school, she says this will become almost impossible.
She added: "I can't contemplate having two daughters that are two school years apart at two different high schools. Hadleigh High and TGS have slightly different term dates too.
"I would not have them in different high schools with different opportunities - that's my main concern.
"How can you say to one of them you can have this opportunity, but not the other one?"
'I might have to sell my house'
When his family moved to Edwardstone 15 years ago, Tristan Wood planned for his children to go to TGS.
So he was also shocked to find out his 11-year-old daughter, Matilda, would only qualify for free travel if she went to Ormiston Sudbury Academy (OSA), while her older brother Jamie continued at TGS.
The bus to TGS has always gone directly through Edwardstone - a tiny village near Boxford - and taken the children directly to school.
However no transport links currently exist between Edwardstone and OSA. In fact, the council's journey planner recommends children set off the night before in order to get to school on time.
This means the council will have to introduce an entirely new service to get Mr Wood's daughter to her 'nearest' school - which her parents say will actually end up increasing costs and boosting pollution levels.
Mr Wood doesn't even live in the catchment area for OSA - so if Matilda could make it to school, it's less likely she would be eligible for a place.
He said the new system relies on an "arbitrary postcode lottery", and could result in him being forced to sell his house and move - as he cannot afford to fork out an extra £750 a year to pay for Matilda's transport to TGS.
"It's splitting up my kids," he said.
"I understand SCC have to save money but why are they doing it at their own expense?"
He claimed the new system was "railroaded through" by the council - with minimal opportunity for parents to have their say.
"When Suffolk did their consultation they didn't actually tell anybody," he said.
"The government guidance is to have it targeted, which they didn't. The first we knew about it was when they wrote to us, so they obviously could contact us, telling us that the consultation had taken place.
"From our point of view as parents it seems for Suffolk County Council it's a done deal. They had the consultation and there was zero response from parents in Boxford, and there was zero response from a lot of parents and a lot of villages in Suffolk.
"I just can't imagine how the council didn't think: 'We've had no response from these areas.' I can't see how they wouldn't imagine it's an emotive issue that people are going to react to.
"We will have to sell our house and move if we can't get a spare seat, and we can't get transport sorted. And that's not what I moved up here for."
Ms Rose had a similar experience with the consultation, claiming she had heard "nothing" before spotting the news on Facebook.
"I think I had actually already applied for Charley's high school place," she said.
Mr Wood added: "I work five days a week, my wife works 30 hours plus on call. We pay our council tax, we expect a service.
"We feel that we're being let down and kind of bullied and pushed about a bit. We are now stuck with a consultation that we didn't know about, and the council's just sitting there saying: 'We did it - tough'.
"It's affecting the kids as well. When we first found out about this and said to my daughter: 'Crikey, we're only going to get transport to OSA,' she was in tears. She was devastated.
"For the last two years, since she's been in Year 4, she's done all the transition work at TGS - as have most of her classmates. Nobody knew about it."
How does the new system work?
The change has come about after council implemented a new system designed to cut costs in the long term, as well as reduce pollution and provide equality and consistency for Suffolk's parents and schools.
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.
It is an opt-in service, so parents must remember to re-apply for free travel every year.
In some cases, parents are claiming that existing routes are being neglected, and brand new transport links will have to be created in order to properly implement the system.
What does the council have to say?
During a council meeting in May, Gordon Jones of Suffolk County Council, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org."