Suffolk: Thousands spent on transporting pupils

HUNDREDS of thousands of pounds are being spent by cash-strapped Suffolk County Council on taking students to schools outside their catchment area.

A Freedom of Information request from the EADT revealed that in January the county was transporting 187 students a day to schools outside their catchment – at an average cost of �9.12 a day.

If those figures are multiplied by the number of school days a year – 190 – it leaves the county council with a bill of more than �324,000 a year.

Students can fail to get a place at their catchment area school if it is over-subscribed by the time their application is made.

Typically this can happen if an application is made to another out-of-catchment school which is also over-subscribed.

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By the time they are rejected for their first-choice school, their catchment school may also have been over-subscribed.

The county council then has to find them a place in another school – but has to pay the cost of transport if it is more than three miles from the student’s home (two miles for students less than eight years old).

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County councillor with responsibility for children and young people Graham Newman said this was a fixed cost that could not be avoided by the authority.

He said: “We have a duty to ensure that students up to the age of 16 have access to school and we cannot change that. It is a fixed cost that comes out of the normal county council budget.”

Mr Newman said the situation arose where there were a number of popular schools near each other – where each of them could be liable to be over-subscribed.

It was difficult to see any other solution to transporting pupils because popular schools were often over-subscribed and it was not possible to keep places open in case there were catchment-area students who needed places at the last minute.

He said: “There is a long period of calculating the number of spaces needed and then applying for places – the process starts in the October before the next school year and it is a complex business.”

He said that was why it was so important that parents and guardians apply for a school place in time before the closing time.

For secondary schools that is in the October of the previous year, and for primary and middle schools it is in the January of the year they are due to start.

If a successful application is made for a place at an out of catchment school, then the parents or guardians are expected to pay for any travel costs.

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