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Free school transport consultation backed by Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet today approved a three-month consultation on the future of free school transport.

The plan if for the consultation to start on October 2.

As we reported last week, school transport was £3 million over budget last year and, while 6,100 pupils would keep their entitlement, the proposal is that the county would ditch many of the non-statutory concessions it offers from 2019.

Legally, counties must provide transport to the ‘nearest suitable school’ if the distance is more than two miles for under eights, or three miles for eight to 16s, but Suffolk provides it to pupils living in the ‘transport priority area’ (TPA) of free schools – giving some a choice of places.

That means 3,700 pupils (3.5 per cent) who are currently getting free transport to new free schools that are not deemed their ‘nearest suitable school’ will lose it.

Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said last week: “There are anomalies with TPAs which were instituted with the first free school to give parents the chance to choose those.”

He said those schools were now established enough to no longer need that support, though the council will consult them on travel plans.

The proposal in Bury St Edmunds, where special travel arrangements are in place because of school reorganisation, is the county will continue to offer travel to the nearest two-tier school in addition to the nearest suitable school.

It will also recognise the effect of St Benedict’s Catholic School being on a split site, so students retain free travel when they change sites.

Other changes include opening school bus services to fare-paying passengers and ceasing subsidised travel for 1,100 over-16s.

The county also wants to use rights of way in calculating the shortest walking routes, as several other counties do.

But some of those affected are already fighting the plan with Thurston Community College parents and students from Felsham staging a protest walk this morning, ahead of this afternoon’s Cabinet meeting.

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