Phased introduction of Suffolk school transport changes recommended for September 2019

Pupils from Thurston Community College have voiced their frustration at the proposed changes Picture

Pupils from Thurston Community College have voiced their frustration at the proposed changes Picture: GREGG BROWN

Plans for sweeping cuts to free school transport have been recommended to go ahead in phases from September next year – despite 70% of people being strongly opposed to them.

Suffolk County Council said that this year £21million of taxpayers’ money would be spent on getting 12,700 children to and from school – a figure described as “unsustainable”.

A consultation was launched in December and ran until the end of February to gather thoughts on proposals to cutbacks, with option one being to implement them all at once, option two being a phased introduction and option three making no changes.

Following the consultation, which featured more than 3,600 online responses and a petition against the plans with more than 8,600 signatures, a phased plan has been recommended.

It will go to the county council’s cabinet on June 19 for a final decision.

It means that those starting at a new school or moving to another school from September next year will only get transport to their nearest school if it is over two miles away from their home (for those aged eight and under) or three miles for those aged 8-16.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, Gordon Jones, confirmed that those already at school would not be affected until they left that school.

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The report being presented to cabinet said the move would make savings by £5.8m per year, and avoid costs of £40m over a 10 year period.

Mr Jones said: “We feel we need to change to have a policy that’s fit for purpose in a changing education landscape.

“We have listened to and taken on board feedback from members of the public, schools and stakeholders, and although we do need to make savings, we must also consider how changes to the policies would impact on children’s education and their families. It’s about balance, and I believe we have found it.

“It is important that we work together to find solutions to ensure that Suffolk has a sustainable travel policy for the future.”

The plans also aim to work with schools on localised solutions such as securing good terms on contracts if schools wanted to run their own transport and changing school start and finish times if needed.

Post-16 transport proposals

While school transport for those under 16 will see a big shake-up, transport for post-16 education remains much more stable.

The recommendation being presented to Suffolk County Council’s cabinet for June 19 is for the current post-16 policy to remain as it is.

However, the proposal does feature a £30 increase per term to reduce the subsidy of the county council paying for a travel ticket, to be phased in over four years.

Students with special educational needs will pay £690 a year in line with the current policy for 2019/20, which will increase by £10 per term.

Mr Jones said: “We will be raising the contribution that parents and students make until it becomes neutral.

“For post-16 we need to recognise that the government does provide funding for the post-16 further education providers as part of their bursary funds, to contribute to that cost of travel.”

Read more: School transport cuts come under fire from headteachers and opposition.

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