Exhausting hike to school is “a nonsense”

Students undertook an exhausting three-mile hike from their village in a bid to disprove education chiefs' assertion that an unlit bridleway was a safe and suitable route to school.

From September, Norfolk County Council intends to withdraw the free bus service to Reepham High School for a number of children living in Cawston.

New mapping data has meant the Marriott's Way footpath, popular with dog walkers and cyclists, can now be included in the authority's measurements for free transport eligibility.

About 25 children are now considered to live within walking distance – even though about twice as many in the same village still qualify for a free pass.

But school principal Chris Hassell said the decision was 'insanity' as children would be forced to walk more than an hour each way along the narrow path, making them vulnerable, tired and exposed to winter weather.

To make that point, about 20 pupils walked the six-mile round trip from Reepham High to Cawston and back on Friday, carrying their schoolbags, PE kits and musical instruments.

Mr Hassell said: 'I don't think any parent would even consider letting their child use that route. We walked it on a lovely day in June, but if they do it in winter they will come to school soaking wet and sodden cold. It is an absolute nonsense.

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'One of the Year 7 boys was in tears at the end and said: 'Sir, I don't think I could walk that every day'.

'I feel sorry for the local authority, which is very hard-pushed for cash just like many others. But nevertheless, we have to manage by principle. You cannot be opportunistic about saving money, and that is what this is. It would come at a potential cost of educational standards and children's safety, and that is simply wrong.'

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said parents still had the option of paying �1.36 a day for the bus service or making their own arrangements, while transport would still be free for families receiving low income benefit.

'We have to be consistent and fair in the way we spends taxpayers' money on free transport to school,' she said.

'If school pupils live less than three miles away and there is a walking route available they do not qualify for free transport. It is then the parents' responsibility to make whatever arrangements they think best to get their children to and from school.

'It is entirely the parents' choice whether they want to pay for a spare seat on the bus, use Marriott's Way as a walking or cycling route, or make other arrangements, such as car sharing.'

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