Parents in crisis as many Suffolk children face losing free travel to catchment schools
Fears about the impact of cuts to school transport subsidies in Suffolk have re-emerged, after many parents learned their children are no longer eligible for free travel to their catchment school.
Suffolk County Council is set to introduce changes from the start of the next school year – in September 2019 – that will see pupils only receive free transport to their nearest school, providing it is two miles away or more.
If parents want their child to attend a different school, they will have to pay £750 per year for a bus service.
The changes have faced significant opposition, with more than 80 per cent of people objecting to the plans in a public consultation this year.
Emma Deacon, a mother-of-three from Brent Eleigh, is among the parents in Suffolk facing a predicament, with the October 31 deadline to apply for school places next year fast approaching.
Mrs Deacon’s oldest daughter attends Thomas Gainsborough School (TGS) in Great Cornard, and she wants her two younger sisters – currently at Lavenham Primary School, a feeder school for TGS – to join her.
But last week, she learned they would only qualify for free transport to Ormiston Sudbury Academy, as that has been allocated as their nearest high school, despite it being only 0.3 miles closer than TGS.
She told the Free Press: “Ormiston identifies six feeder primary schools, and Lavenham Primary School is not one of them.
“For years, we have always applied for schools in our catchment, but from next year, it will be based as the crow flies. They are going to establish a service to take children to what they class as their nearest school, where they are not guaranteed a place, because it’s not a feeder school.
“I have two children at Lavenham and if they want to join their older sister at TGS, I will have to pay £750 each. We will have no choice but to drive them there, or to pay.
“This is a huge issue that is Suffolk wide. A lot of people are on fixed incomes and they rely on a single vehicle.
“It has upset a lot of people and it’s having a devastating impact. It’s really going to hit everyone rurally.”
Mrs Deacon has now set up an online petition calling on the county council to reverse course on the changes, which has so far gained more than 50 signatures.
On Tuesday, South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge met Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, to relay concerns he has received from constituents.
“Although the consultation closed some time ago, it’s understandable that the advent of applications for secondary places has focused minds on the changes again,” said Mr Cartlidge.
“Cllr Jones has assured me, first and foremost, that he would be happy to visit primary schools to hear from parents who are particularly affected.
“Moreover, while he cannot promise any particular issues will be resolved, the council is not going to rule out local solutions to local problems that seem unfair or arbitrary.
“I welcome this, and encourage parents to ask their school leaders to arrange a meeting with Suffolk County Council as soon as possible.”