Suffolk County Council's new school transport policy branded as 'postcode lottery', after free travel eligibility divide emerges in Nayland
Concerned parents have branded Suffolk’s new school transport policy as “illogical” and “a postcode lottery”, after pupils on one side of a Suffolk village learned they are not eligible for free travel to their preferred school.
Under Suffolk County Council’s new free transport policy, which will be implemented from September, students can only receive free transport to what is deemed their nearest school geographically.
Those wanting to send their child elsewhere must pay £750 a year for the transport.
The policy has drawn the ire of parents in Nayland, where most pupils at Nayland Primary School have historically attended Thomas Gainsborough School (TGS), due to an established feeder relationship.
But a split has emerged in Bear Street, with families living on the east end of the village being told they are only eligible for council-funded travel to Hadleigh High School (HHS), despite the lack of direct public transport services between Nayland and Hadleigh.
Affected parents Justin Dowding, of Fen Street, and Tanya Page, of Stoke Road, told the Free Press they will appeal the decision to deny their children free travel to TGS, with both raising concerns for their welfare if they were to be separated from all of their friends.
The Suffolk Labour group has also criticised the policy, arguing it took no account of strong relationships that have already been forged between primary and secondary schools.
Suffolk County Council stated the changes are intended to enable “a consistent and sustainable travel policy for the future”, and reduce travel costs in the long-term.
The authority says it will also help broker local solutions, in cases where children are not eligible for free travel to certain schools.
Mr Dowding disputed the county council’s assessment that HHS was the closest school for his son, claiming they had measured it “as the crow flies”, ignoring the road mileage or available transport links to Hadleigh.
“It’s illogical and almost comical,” he said. “There ought to be an element of common sense. It’s bad for the welfare of the child and it makes no financial sense, as it will cost them more to lay on extra transport to Hadleigh.
“They suggested there could be a taxi or a minibus, but it has all been very opaque.”
Meanwhile, Ms Page, whose home is just moments from a bus stop that could send her son to TGS, said it was unfair to have to pay for transport there, particularly as her son had completed all of his transition activities with the school while a pupil in Nayland.
“None of his friends are going to Hadleigh, and it’s so much further realistically than TGS,” she said. “It’s really disappointing the way they are dividing the village. It’s like a postcode lottery.
“These changes are going to cause so many problems for people in the future.”
At a meeting of Suffolk County Council on Thursday, Labour member and Nayland resident Emma Bishton asked if the Conservative administration was comfortable with a policy that had split the village in two.
“It’s very hard to see how the new policy, which has resulted in splits of this sort, can result in any savings,” she told the Free Press.
“In addition to causing significant stress and hardship to the families affected, it will also result in large amounts of additional traffic.”
In response, Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, argued a split had always existed, as a result of different school choices by parents.
He added: “The passenger transport team will still review routes to ensure the most cost-effective contracts possible are in place.
“Suffolk County Council will broker solutions for parents and schools and, if parents discover their children are not eligible for funded travel, they can contact the Suffolk Brokerage Service for support.”