Criticisms mount up over planned cuts to Suffolk school transport subsidies
A concerned father says impending cuts to school transport subsidies in Suffolk have left him facing the possibility of having to move house, as criticisms of the planned changes mount up.
More people have voiced their anger at Suffolk County Council’s plans for the next academic year, following the Free Press report last week about many parents learning their children will only be eligible for free travel to schools where they are not guaranteed a place.
The proposals, set to come into effect in September 2019, will see pupils receive free transport to what is deemed their nearest school, as the council seeks to make savings from school transport expenditure.
But critics say many youngsters are being cut off from free travel to their preferred high schools, which their siblings may already attend, and where they are more likely to receive a place because of long-standing feeder relationships with their primary schools.
Tristan Wood told the Free Press his family is considering having to relocate, because the cuts threaten to make the cost of sending his daughter, a Year 6 pupil at Boxford Primary School, to Thomas Gainsborough School (TGS) next September unaffordable.
She will only be eligible for free transport to Ormiston Sudbury Academy (OSA), where she faces competition for a place from pupils at six preferred feeder schools, of which Boxford is not one.
In response to growing concerns, Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, said the authority is willing to work with communities to develop suitable local travel solutions.
He urged parents to ask school leaders to arrange a meeting with the council as soon as possible.
Mr Wood explained that his family had originally moved to Edwardstone in large part due to its proximity to Boxford Primary School and its feeder partner TGS, where his son is currently a pupil in Year 8.
However, his daughter has been told that, under the new school transport policy, OSA is deemed to be the closest school to Edwardstone, so she can only receive a free bus there.
Mr Wood said: “My daughter was really upset. She’s been gearing up for the last two years to go to TGS, and she’s been doing transition activities there.
“At Ormiston, Boxford is not a preferred feeder school and we aren’t in their priority transport area. We don’t meet their criteria at all, and yet we are being told that’s where she’s eligible.
“The headteacher at TGS came to Boxford and said there would be a place for us, but we can’t afford to pay for the bus.
“I’ll have to drive my daughter there, or, if I can’t afford that, we will have to sell our home and move.
“The whole policy is not thought out and they have not followed any sort of due process, in my opinion. The council is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
“I get that they want to save money. But by them doing this, it is damaging to children.”
On social media this week, others echoed parents Mr Wood’s sentiments, with some questioning where the savings would be achieved in the county council’s new school transport policy.
It is understood that children currently at Boxford Primary School are being split between OSA, TGS or Hadleigh High School, which parents have argued will require three different bus services to run for Boxford pupils.
Emma Rose wrote on Facebook: “I can’t see how they will save money, unless they are banking on us parents still sending our children to the school and just paying for the bus.
“As in Boxford, they will need to provide a bus to Hadleigh and the same for Lavenham with a bus to Sudbury schools.”
Victoria Dack posted: “Where we live, our local primary school links to high schools in Bury.
“We are now told that our nearest high school is in Sudbury. To follow the path through to Bury schools along with her friends, I’ll have to provide for my daughter transport myself, costing time, money and an extra car on the road.
“Parents are supposed to have a choice of schools. Should people in my village want their children to use school transport, our choice is completely removed. There is only one school.”
In response, Cllr Jones said he was aware of people’s concerns, having met James Cartlidge, the MP for South Suffolk, last week to discuss the matter.
He said: “Although, the consultation closed some time ago, it’s understandable that the advent of applications for secondary places has focused minds on the changes coming into place from September 2019.
“Part of these changes now sees schools and local communities able to plan their own local travel options, and Suffolk County Council is happy to help facilitate the development of local solutions, to enable sustainable travel to school.
“Several areas already have local travel solutions in place. I encourage parents to ask their school leaders to arrange a meeting with us as soon as possible to discuss this further.”