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Suffolk school transport plans opposed by 90% in official survey

PUBLISHED: 09:42 15 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:26 15 May 2018

Students from Thurston Community College have been campaigning to try to retain  their free school transport. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Students from Thurston Community College have been campaigning to try to retain their free school transport. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Controversial proposals to change school transport arrangements for children at some Suffolk schools have been opposed by 90% of those who took part in an official survey.

Controversial proposals to change school transport arrangements for children at some Suffolk schools have been opposed by 90% of those who took part in an official survey.

More than 3,600 responses were received to the county council online survey. Of these 85% “strongly opposed” the proposal while a further 5% “opposed” the shake-up.

This would see free transport removed for all home-to-school journeys except to the nearest school – whether the student lives in its catchment area or not.

That would particularly hit many rural schools, especially Thurston Community College where most of its students could face losing their free transport. In February parents organised a mass drive your child to school day to demonstrate the chaos on the roads that could be caused.

There were three options in the survey: bring in the changes from September 2019, phase them in on an annual basis from September 2019 so existing students were not affected, or look for savings from other services.

The council has budgeted to spend £18m on school transport, but the cost is expected to rise to £23m this year.

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said he hoped the overwhelming response from the public who took part in the survey would encourage the administration to reconsider the policy, especially following the change in leadership at the council.

He said: “The administration does need to look at some alternative proposals. Thurston Community College has come up with a proposal which seems to have been rejected without explanation – there has to be a new look at this.”

The responses were leaked to the media before the proposals for school transport are discussed by the county’s cabinet next month.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: “We’ve conducted a thorough consultation on our school and post-16 travel proposals because it’s such an important decision affecting thousands of people.

“Those results are currently being analysed and will be reported in June, alongside all the other information we have available, so that our Cabinet will be able to make an informed decision in public.”

Green councillor Robert Lindsay added: “(cabinet member for education)Gordon Jones told the council many, many times in answer to questions on the proposed school bus cuts, that he was conducting a consultation and would listen to the public.

“The public have now given a resounding ‘no’. So I hope he will listen. To ignore the result of the consultation would be an insult to the 3,600 people who took the trouble to fill out the survey.

“The council say the move is to designed save money but they have done no proper research into whether it actually will. In fact there is a strong chance they will end up having to spend more because they are likely to have to send separate buses to the same village.”

No change for post-16 transport subisidies in Suffolk – this year

There will be no substantial changes to Suffolk’s provision for post-16 educational travel in September, the cabinet decided.

However cabinet member for education Gordon Jones said he was not able to announce what would happen to the funding from September 2019 because it is part of the same review that is looking at other school transport.

At present the county subsidises some travel for youngsters heading to sixth-forms or colleges – and has to produce a statement of its policy every year.

Over the last four years the number of youngsters using subsidised travel has fallen by 69% – from 3,269 to 1,156.

However for many students in urban parts of the county this is not relevant because the commercial bus fares they have to pay are much lower than the cost of the subsidised county council fares.

Should Suffolk’s new free schools be fitted with sprinkler systems?

New free schools to be built in Suffolk will not need to be fitted with sprinkler systems because they will be designed to be “fire-proof”, the county’s cabinet has been told.

But that will not stop cabinet member Gordon Jones trying to persuade education ministers to insist on sprinklers in all new schools at a government meeting.

Suffolk’s cabinet agreed to seek to become a government agent to build new free schools alongside its architecture arm Concertus.

But senior Conservative councillor Joanna Spicer was concerned that the government did not fund schools enough to provide environmental benefits or safety items like sprinklers.

Mr Jones said he would take the issue up with the minister but incoming council leader – and cabinet member for public protection – Matthew Hicks said government’s insisted new schools were built to “fire-proof” standards and did not need sprinklers.

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