ANGRY parents have blasted council chiefs after they cut free transport to a secondary school for their 11-year-olds.
Youngsters living in Shotton Colliery, who will be starting Year 7 at The Academy, Shotton Hall, and live less than three miles from the Peterlee school, will now have to walk to lessons because of budget cuts.
The controversial move came about after the cut-off for eligibility for a free bus was changed from two miles to three.
As a result, parents have accused council chiefs of putting money first and risking the lives of their children – who face at least one hour’s walk to school.
Durham County Council chiefs rubber-stamped a raft of changes in a bid to save £6m over the next four years, towards a total £123.5million following Government grant cuts.
But irate parents say they are concerned about their children’s safety on the way to and from school – in all weather – with journeys including routes over the busy A19/Burnhope Way roundabout and an unlit country lane.
They say they cannot afford the £95-a-term concessionary fare, which children receiving free school meals may get, and most parents have to work so cannot pick them up.
Children attending Easington Community Science College from Haswell and South Hetton are also affected.
David and Louise Christie’s daughter, Lauren, 11, is just one of the Shotton Colliery youngsters affected.
Teaching assistant David, from Sutherland Grove, who lives 2.9 miles from The Academy, said: “It’s all wrong. Are they thinking of anybody’s safety?”
Caroline O’Neill, the council’s head of education, said: “Due to significant reductions in Government funding the council must make substantial savings over the coming years.
“Therefore we have had to bring our policy in line with the national standard.
“This was well publicised and consulted on before any decisions were made in 2011.
“The council assesses routes as being safe using a criteria based on national guidelines. The council is always willing to review these assessments in light of any new information.”
Easington MP Grahame Morris has joined the parents’ fight and has written to the Department for Education.
“I would like to see the council review their decision and provide some transport or at least contribute towards transport concessions,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask a child to walk in the dark.”
PARENTS and supporters followed the route children will take to school as they looked at the danger the students could be in.
Councillor Robin Todd, who represents the Shotton ward on Durham County Council, was joined by Easington MP Grahame Morris and families as they walked the paths from South Hetton to the schools before looking at the routes from Shotton Colliery.
Coun Todd, who is representing 17 families affected by the issue, said: “The children will have to cross roads which include the intersections of the A19.
“There are also de-regulated roads with a 60mph limit and there will be dark nights.
“Parents are of course absolutely aghast.
“Anybody coming between South Hetton and Easington will know what the traffic on those roads is like.”
He added the rules had caused ructions because while some families had missed out on the free passes because they lay outside the three-mile boundary, and others in the same street qualified.
“The rules also say if a child is on free meals, they can get a bus pass.
“It seems to me like we should be encouraging people to work.”