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Proposals for £90 increase to bus transport for 16-18 year olds at college and sixth form

PUBLISHED: 07:30 15 April 2020

Changes to post-16 school transport in Suffolk are set to be made which will see parents face a £90 increase per year. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Changes to post-16 school transport in Suffolk are set to be made which will see parents face a £90 increase per year. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

RACHEL EDGE

Plans to increase the cost of school transport by £90 for those aged 16-18 are set to be decided next week – despite more than three quarters of parents saying it would have an impact on them.

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said the consultation results and impact of coronavirus meant a decision on post-16 school transport changes should be halted. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLabour education spokesman Jack Abbott said the consultation results and impact of coronavirus meant a decision on post-16 school transport changes should be halted. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

One parent set to be hardest hit has branded the policy as “killing low income rural families”.

Suffolk County Council’s post-16 transport policy must be agreed by the end of May, and proposes a £30 increase per term, meaning parents will have to fork out £840 a year for a seat.

For those with special educational needs, that will be a £10 per term increase with a £720 per year total.

The annual cost is set to exceed £1,000 within a further two years.

Emma Bishton said the post-16 school transport changes would have a bigger impact on rural families. Picture: Emma BishtonEmma Bishton said the post-16 school transport changes would have a bigger impact on rural families. Picture: Emma Bishton

According to the council, post-16 travel has always had a requirement for students to make a contribution for the cost, but bursary options of up to £1,200 are available for those on low incomes.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet was due to decide on the revised costs next week, but that decision is now expected to be made by the council’s chief executive, Nicola Beach, under delegated authority.

A consultation carried out at the beginning of the year found that nearly 50% of parents responding felt the increase would have a “considerable impact” on them, while a further 33% said it would have a “reasonable impact”.

Parents argued that because it was mandatory for youngsters to continue in either college, sixth form or an apprenticeship until they were 18 they should receive free travel.

One parent in Bardwell said that £840 per year was “a significant amount for parents in rural communities to find” while another near Bungay said the policy “discriminates those that live in rural and semi-rural areas” where the ability to get to schools, colleges or sixth forms was more tricky, and culls to rural bus routes meant alternatives were less readily available.

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When mandatory education was raised to 18, the council did not get any additional funding to cover transport for pupils.

The council said that low income families could apply for a bursary – administered through the colleges themselves – of up to £1,200 to spend on expenses for education, such as food, books and travel.

Emma Bishton, a parent campaigner against changes to the school transport policy said that the coronavirus uncertainty meant any changes should be put on hold until stability had been restored to bus routes and education.

“They need to be taking account of the position people are now in,” she said.

“They are expecting the world to be exactly the same as two months ago when schools go back in September.”

She added that those starting post-16 education in September are those who have already faced disruption by the closure of schools which means they have effectively finished school already.

According to the council report, the policy has been designed to be clearer for parents and families.

The council is not in a position to comment until after the decision has been made.

Councillor Jack Abbott, education spokesman for the council’s opposition Labour group, said: “More than four in five families who responded to this consultation said that an increase in school bus charges would have an impact on them, with half saying that the effect would be considerable.

“When you combine this feedback with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it is clear that the consequences of a 12% fare increase could be stark.

“Some families have already seen a big drop in their income and there is real uncertainty about what the economic repercussions of this pandemic will be.

“Given this context, I strongly believe that now is not the right time to be increasing the cost of school transport - the council needs to be helping families through this difficult period, not heaping a further financial burden on them.”


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