Council axes free Sunderland school bus travel in face of massive opposition

St Aidan's RC School (general view) - Willowbank Road, Ashbrooke, Sunderland...
St Aidan's RC School (general view) - Willowbank Road, Ashbrooke, Sunderland...
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PARENTS are set to face extra travel costs after council bosses axed free school bus travel – despite 90 per cent expressing opposition to the plan.

The non-discretionary service for pupils could be dropped as soon as September, and at the latest a year later, as part of controversial cost cutting plans, which will affect hundreds of pupils at primary and secondary schools across the city.

Children with special educational needs or disabilities will not be affected.”

A total of 770 pupils receive discretionary transport, which costs around £200,000.

However, according to the law, the council only has to provide it to 94 of those.

St Aidan’s Catholic Academy, Ashbrooke, receives £24,000 to provide transport for pupils.

Headteacher Stephen Hammond said it will take away parents choice of how their children travel to school.

“The government agenda for education is parental choice,” he said. “If funding is not available to local authorities to support school transport, that eradicates parental choice.”

The council spends £2.2 million on school transport overall and is looking to make savings of £318,000 by 2014.

At a cabinet meeting this week, Coun Pat Smith, responsible for children and learning city, asked the council to consider continuing transport for another year, to discuss alternative travel options with schools.

“I think taking the extra time for consulting on the plans is necessary,” she said. “To make plans, and make the decision in 2014.”

Shadow education minister and Washington MP Sharon Hodgson, said she will bring up the issue with leader of Sunderland City Council Paul Watson.

She added: “It’s important to remember the council are in this position because they have been forced to find £200million in cuts over term of this parliament due to disproportionate cuts in central Government funding compared to more affluent areas.

“The council has managed to avoid front line cuts remarkably well, but as it becomes harder and harder to meet the duties it has to perform by law, cutting discretionary spending is sadly inevitable.”

Conservative leader and governor of Farringdon Community Academy, Robert Oliver, said: “Whilst it is regrettable that part of the school transport provision is to be stopped, there is little alternative given that savings need to be made.

“All local authorities are now focussing on the services they must provided by law, but it is important that parents have enough time to make alternative arrangements.”

Council leaders are prepared for opposition from parents claiming there are no safe walking routes to school for their children.

Joe Hughes, director of the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle’s education department, has slammed the move.

In a written objection to the council, he said he was “extremely disappointed”, and said: “To change the rules at this late stage is not justifiable.

“Natural justice surely would indicate that at the very least such a radical change ought not to be introduced until September 2014.

“Both proposals make it clear that if the change is implemented, it will impact on all pupils immediately.

“Again, this flies in the face of natural justice.

“To penalise current pupils in this way is unjust.”

In total, 218 parents of pupils at Sunderland’s schools responded to the questionnaire, of whom 177 strongly disagreed with the proposals and a further 20 disagreed.