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Time's almost up! Suffolk parents urged to apply for school transport as deadline looms

PUBLISHED: 17:30 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 20:44 18 May 2019

Pupils from Thurston Community College protested against the cuts last year Picture: GREGG BROWN

Pupils from Thurston Community College protested against the cuts last year Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suffolk families who qualify for free school transport must opt-in before the end of the month - or risk sacrificing their child's bus pass for next term.

Headteacher Helen Wilson from Thurston Community College was a key voice in the campaign against transport cuts Picture: GREGG BROWNHeadteacher Helen Wilson from Thurston Community College was a key voice in the campaign against transport cuts Picture: GREGG BROWN

The deadline is fast approaching for parents to apply for school travel funded by Suffolk County Council (SCC), after controversial changes to the system were agreed last year.

From September 2019, children aged five to 16 will only have access to free transport if their parents have opted-in for a bus pass.

Parents must apply by May 31, and continue to do so each year, if they require transport from the Autumn term.

This applies to all children, regardless of whether they are starting at a new school this year.

Those who will be starting at a new school in September, and are under eight years old, will be eligible for council-funded travel only if the walking distance to their closest school is two miles or more. For those eight years and over, the minimum distance is three miles.

The council says the new policy is being phased in to protect arrangements for children who already have free school transport.

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Research by the county council has shown that some families, although eligible free school travel, do not use their seat. Consequently, the council claims it is funding seats which are not used.

The changes were approved last year, when the council settled on a phased introduction of cutbacks over seven years.

A lengthy consultation featured more than 3,600 responses, including a petition signed by 8,600 people against the plans.

Despite more than 70% of respondents being strongly against the recommendation, the decision went ahead in June.

Dozens of public speakers quizzed Gordon Jones, cabinet member for education, on the matter - with key issues including the extent to which the changes would save money, the impact on pupil numbers and whether the public had been adequately listened to.

Parents can opt-in for SCC funded school travel online, at www.suffolkonboard.com/optin.

Those who do not apply will not be guaranteed a seat on a school bus from September 2019.

Spare seats must also be purchased by May 31.

If parents have any queries about transport arrangements, they can contact the county council on 0345 606 6173.

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