Alarm Bells Over School Transport
By MediaMs | Friday, April 27, 2012, 07:32
When the free school for the NorthDevon/North Cornwall area was fist mooted, alarm bells went off in my head.
What would happen about free school transport for children who are currently granted free bus travel to their catchment school (they use the term 'designated area') if the free school became a child's nearest school, and especially if the child lived in the rural outposts of North Devon/N Cornwall? Devon Council seemed to suggest that providing the free school had 'no designated area' it was drawing pupils from then the current arrangements may stay in place. If it did have a designated area then things might well change. However, I was also advised that we are living in times of austerity measures, so councils are looking to save moeny. Cornwall Council didn't reply at all.
However, events in a sleepy Suffolk town where there is a free school bid has now dramatically changed those goalposts.
A free school bid there has led to a consultation on the Suffolk County Council's existing transport policy, as the free school proposal will impact upon it.
Let's hope, at the very least, that a similar consultation is carried out here. Good to see so many parents/educationalists up in arms about the issue in Beccles.
The upshot is that the new academies and proposed free school in the Beccles area are trawling the net wide for pupils, and have given up on the notion of a designated (catchment) area, which is causing a problem for the local authority that has always worked on catchment area calculations when providing free transport to school.
There is talk of a new policy if a free school bid is successful there, which would not affect pupils already at an existing school but could affect future pupils attending a school, for example, their siblings. It is not outside the realms of possibility, therefore, that a child living in one of the rural villages, currently attending Bideford College or Budehaven Community School, may find their younger brother or sister forced, by changes to transport arrangements in these cost-cutting times, to attend a different school, the free school. If parents don't like it, they would have to perhaps pay to send their child to the school of their choice. But as Torridge is one of the poorest parts of the country, many will not have that option.
Until now, this has seemed to be a particular bee in my bonnet, because I seem to be one of the few people concerned about rural inequalities where transport to school is concerned. However, the Beccles situation puts it on a different footing, for a precedent is being set in another part of the country for a free school to adversely impact upon the county plan for school transport; ergo, it could happen here! Whether Devon and Cornwall would develop "transport priority areas" for those in the rural areas, I don't know.
But parents, watch your step. The school so many of you 'signed up for' on your day out at The Milky Way could leave you with a large hole in your pocket if you later decide to choose a well-established local schools for your child.
The time scales for discussion are also a concern here. In Suffolk this is being discussed this summer in time for 2013 implementation. Here? It's worrying stuff, and I'm surprised more parents have not expressed concern about it.