College urges cabinet to ‘listen to people of Suffolk’ over school transport cuts
A school which claims it will lose hundreds of pupils if contentious plans for school transport cuts go ahead has made a final plea for councillors to “listen to the people of Suffolk”.
Suffolk County Council (SCC)’s cabinet will meet this afternoon to decide the proposals, which if approved would take effect in September next year.
The plans mean that those starting at school or moving school from September 2019 would only get free transport to their nearest school if it is two miles or more away from their home.
More than 90% of people consulted over the plans were opposed to them, with Thurston Community College one of the most vocal as it estimates a drop in pupil numbers of around 124 pupils per year.
In a letter sent to the cabinet ahead of today’s meeting – signed by headteacher Helen Wilson and Elizabeth Dunn, chairman of the governing board – claimed there had not been consistency in the figures throughout the process, and raised concerns that many of the villages which have been in the school’s catchment area for 45 years would now no longer be included.
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Miss Wilson said: “To suggest they [pupils] cannot come here and they have got to go to another school just because another school was opened closer to them is just taking away parental choice.”
She added: “I still hold out some hope that they are going to listen to the people of Suffolk.
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“They asked for a consultation and the people of Suffolk responded in record numbers, and 90% said do not change home to school transport policy – if they are listening to them, listen.”
Concerns over the impact on retaining teachers, school funding and application numbers have already been expressed.
Those behind the proposals claim it will generate £5.8million in savings annually, and avoid additional costs of £40m over a 10-year period.
Education cabinet member Gordon Jones said the team were aware of the policy’s financial complexities, adding that everything had been done to ensure an informed decision will be made.
In a letter responding to concerns raised by the Thurston Community College team, Mr Jones added: “I believe that SCC officers have delivered a large range of supporting documents that will help cabinet and I to make an informed decision.”
The 20 minute public question session during tomorrow’s cabinet meeting has attracted around 40 questions – one of the highest numbers ever received.
But concerns have been raised that people will not be able to formally ask their questions.
Correspondence by the county council seen by this publication revealed that hard copies of the initial questions would be available as a document, but would not be read out.
Once answers have been given, only then will participants be allowed to ask a supplementary question.
Some of those attending have voiced fears that it means their questions will not be adequately heard, and how much understanding everybody in the room will have.
The correspondence said it was about allowing everyone to submit their questions when the Q&A section normally only lasted 20 minutes.