Essex County Council launch consultation on plans to axe free transport to faith schools

PUBLISHED: 12:00 03 March 2011

FAITH schools in the Reporter area have reacted with disappointment over moves to axe free transport.

Essex County is looking to bring existing home to school transport in line with the subsidy for that of grammar schools in a bid to save £2.2 million.

The move will leave hundreds of children in the local area without free transport to school with St Thomas More Catholic and St Mary’s Primary schools in Saffron Walden, as well as Great Chesterford VEA School, affected.

Headteacher at St Thomas More, Mary-Jo Hall, expressed her disappointment that the council is looking to push on with the decision and said it is likely to impact on admissions.

Of the schools 207 pupils, some 100 use the free transport service.

“I appreciate that everybody is in this difficult situation and economies have to be made but there is a long tradition of catholic children being offered subsidy transport to their nearest catholic school. The government has been committed to faith schools and it is a shame that it is going to stop,” she said.

“With that subsidy taken away it may mean some parents will be paying out a quite large financial burden or may not be able to send their children to a catholic school at all.

“It will have an impact on admissions – people could opt for their local school instead of sending their children to a school of their faith.”

Mrs Hall pointed out that the school is working closely with its diocese, Brentwood, and the Catholic Education Service as the organisations look to lobby the council in a bid to stop the decision going ahead. The school is also set to lobby Saffron Walden MP Sir Alan Haselhurst.

A spokesman for Great Chesterford school, which has more than 30 children using home to school transport, said: “If the council purses this proposal we would be extremely disappointed. We would raise an objection and contact all interested parties.”

Countywide almost 1800 children receive daily transport to 49 faith schools which, the council says, costs on £1662 per primary child and £818 per secondary child.

The proposal will be phased in for all new entrants to both primary and secondary faith schools from September 2012 and beyond, with parents having to pick up the full bill. The subsidy will be retained for low-income families.

The council’s cabinet member for education, Stephen Castle, said: “Unfortunately the current economic climate has meant that Essex, like other local authorities, has had to make tough decisions on which services it continues to fund with a decreasing budget.

“Making changes to the existing faith school transport policy means the system will be fairer and more equitable while still supporting the most vulnerable.”

Consultation on the proposals started on Monday (Feb 28) and runs for six weeks. Visit engageessex.co.uk or call 0845 6032200 for more information.

GIVE us your thoughts. Should free travel subsidy to faith schools be cut? E-mail us at editor@saffronwalden-reporter.co.uk

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