No plans to change school transport policy before start of next academic year, Suffolk County Council confirms
The campaign against Suffolk’s controversial home-to-school transport policy says it will continue to lobby for key changes, after the county council confirmed the policy will not be altered before the next academic year begin.
Council officers were grilled last week after a report identified 19 failings in the implementation of the policy, under which children were only eligible to receive subsidised travel if their nearest school is two miles or more away from their home.
The review found issues of siblings and villages being divided between two schools, IT problems and staff being overwhelmed by the workload.
Parent campaigners subsequently called for three revisions to the policy – an end to the separation of siblings, an end to split villages, and a guarantee of spare seats being allocated for a full five years of a child’s high school education.
But at a scrutiny committee meeting last Wednesday, Mary Evans, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, declined to amend the policy itself before the next wave of school travel applications, instead confirming a range of measures to improve its implementation.
“At this stage, we are talking about the implementation,” she said. “I know there are many people wanting me to talk about the policy.
“I have to consider in light of the recommendations whether we look at putting in more flexibility.
“The policy is quite clear – taking children to their nearest school. We have got to look at exactly how that is done and how this is implemented.”
Following the meeting, Suffolk School Bus Campaign co-founder Emma Bishton, of Nayland, said: “We had hoped Cllr Evans would take a pragmatic approach to the problems identified.
“But although officers present were able to outline measures to improve the application process through IT systems and communications with parents, we were extremely disappointed and frustrated with Cllr Evans’ overall response.
“As evidenced by the significant number of appeals for transport, some of the fundamental problems stem from the policy itself.
“Cllr Evans repeatedly referred to the need to ‘learn lessons’, but seemed completely unwilling to learn the most fundamental lesson – if a policy isn’t working, change it.”
Edwardstone resident Tristan Wood was among the parents to submit an appeal, after his daughter Matilda had been denied free transport to Thomas Gainsborough School, where her older brother Jamie already attended.
Despite winning his appeal, Mr Wood told the Free Press he would continue to campaign to help others.
“I think the council has missed a brilliant opportunity to amend some of the issues that were blatantly obvious from the get-go,” he said.
“I don’t want to rest on my laurels. It has affected so many people so badly. If I had to go through it again, I would absolutely do so, because I feel what we’ve achieved is we saved the council money from running two buses to the same village.
“I don’t think the policy has saved them any money, and even if it has, the hassle and the pain they have caused families is not worth it.”
More by this authorThomas Malina