October 22 2014 Latest news:
Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Thursday, May 8, 2014
A north Norfolk mother who has to pay £463 a year for her daughter’s bus pass to the nearest sixth-form college is outraged because she claims students outside the catchment area are “enticed” with a travel subsidy.
Jo Chandler says it is unfair that Aylsham parents like herself are discriminated against by Paston College, in North Walsham.
But college principal Kevin Grieve says he is shocked at Mrs Chandler’s accusations and claims the “small” subsidies offered by Paston are aimed at giving students from a much wider area the chance of a sixth-form college experience.
Mrs Chandler said she had recently discovered that Paston was offering to subsidise travel for students outside the college’s catchment area.
Aylsham, nine miles away and without its own sixth-form institution, was inside. As children now had to stay in education after leaving high school, it meant Aylsham parents were forced to pay Norfolk County Council £463pa to get their children to Paston, according to Mrs Chandler.
“It’s effectively a tax on people with teenage kids,” she added. That unfairness was made worse because students from areas including Norwich and Sheringham, which had their own sixth-form provision, were being offered a subsidy to attend Paston.
“In effect, parents who have no alternative have to pay hundreds of pounds while those with a sixth form already on their doorstep get the cost of their pass refunded,” added Mrs Chandler whose older daughter Paris, 18, will finish at Paston in July and whose younger daughter Chloe, 16, is due to start there in September.
Mr Grieve said he was unaware of any complaints about Paston’s travel policy and was sorry that Mrs Chandler had not discussed her concerns with him first.
Information which implied Paston offered free travel to students outside the core area was out of date. Subsidies of £150 were available to some out-of-area students to help them with the high costs of travel from far-flung places.
Paston, with 800 students, was one of only three sixth-form colleges in the area - the others were East Norfolk, at Gorleston, and Lowestoft - and some students preferred their ethos to those of a Further Education college, Free School or school sixth form.
“We are trying to support young people who want to come here and face transport problems,” said Mr Grieve.
“We have done a lot of work with Greater Anglia and local bus companies to help our students, and we campaign on the cost of transport and rurality. These to me are the bigger issues.”