New online campaign calls on Suffolk County Council to abandon controversial changes to school transport policy
A new campaign against Suffolk’s incoming school transport policy, which has left some pupils ineligible for free travel to their preferred school, says it is not too late for the county council to reverse course.
More than 50 parents and children attended Thomas Gainsborough School (TGS) in Great Cornard last week, to support the launch of the Suffolk School Bus Campaign, which describes the council’s policy as “divisive, cruel and unfair”.
Taking effect in September, the changes – intended to reduce costs – will mean students are only eligible for free transport to what is deemed their nearest school, while parents wanting to send their child elsewhere must pay £750 a year.
The new online campaign aims to make the case for the changes to be withdrawn, by sharing stories of people affected in villages where divisions have emerged.
At Boxford Primary School, youngsters have had their free travel eligibility split between TGS, Ormiston Sudbury Academy (OSA) and Hadleigh High School (HHS).
One of those affected is Tristan Wood, whose daughter, a Year 6 pupil at Boxford, will only receive free transport to OSA, despite TGS having an established feeder relationship with her school.
Mr Wood said: “Incredibly, instead of one bus, for some villages, there will need to be three. How they expect to save money is beyond me.
“There is still time for Suffolk County Council to pull its collective head out of the sand.
“At the very least, they should postpone the implementation of this senseless policy and go back to the drawing board.”
In Nayland, Fen Street resident Justin Dowding and Tanya Page, of Stoke Road, are both awaiting the outcome of their respective appeals against the decision to only offer their children free travel to HHS, while all of their friends are eligible for TGS.
Mr Dowding told the Free Press that, while only two Nayland children are affected by the split this September, more families will be impacted in future academic years.
“The key thing is for people to realise how it could affect them next year or the year after,” he said.
“I hope, through this campaign, that we are able to spread the message and get more people to realise it’s going to affect them, so they can get in touch with their councillors to put on the pressure.
“Just by the sheer number of people pointing out the ridiculous nature of this and the new people appealing, I hope it will make the council rethink its policy.”
The new campaign has also been supported by Suffolk Labour.
Emma Bishton, Labour member, education campaigner and a resident of Nayland, said: “We have already received messages from parents from across Suffolk, highlighting the financial and environmental impacts of the new policy.
“These include children being denied transport to their traditional catchment school, which their siblings already attend, parents forced to give up work in order to drive children to school on roads not safe for walking, and parents not yet knowing which uniform to buy for September.
“They describe a system in chaos, with stressed families left to bear the cost.”
In response, a Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said: "There are many factors which determine why certain transport options are, or aren’t, available for children to certain schools. The school choices which parents make is one of these.
"There can be no doubt that going ahead with the changes to Suffolk’s school travel policy has been a difficult and complex decision for the council to take.
"However, the new policy ensures we have the right balance between supporting those already in education and providing a sustainable and affordable way forward for school travel.”
"If parents discover their children are not eligible for funded travel, they can contact the Suffolk Brokerage Service for support.
"For full details on Suffolk’s School Travel Policy visit www.suffolkonboard.com/schooltravel."
To view the campaign website, go online to suffolkschoolbus.org.