Herefordshire Council’s cabinet will be considering changes to the education transport policy when it meets on Thursday 19 December.
The policy changes have been recommended following a six week public consultation in September and October which received over 500 individual responses and petition signatories from across the county.
In terms of compulsory education, the council currently provides free transport for pupils in year 11 and below to either their nearest school or a school in their catchment area. It is proposed to change this to the statutory requirement of providing free transport to the nearest school only. The change would be implemented in September 2014, but would not affect those GCSE students entering years 10 and 11 at that time. This is an amendment to the original proposal in light of the consultation responses received.
For those families bordering Wales, the council will also provide transport for children to attend their nearest school, whether it is in England or Wales, giving parents more choice.
The council is also developing a new online facility which will allow parents to enter their postcode and automatically find the location of their five nearest primary and secondary schools. This will be available on the council’s website shortly.
As for post 16 education, the council currently provides free transport for young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN), attending an appropriate education or training placement. It is now proposed that SEN students would pay the same amount as all other students. This would not be full cost recovery, in recognition of the additional cost of adapted transport.
A number of local authorities have already implemented charges for post 16 SEN transport, including neighbouring Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
The Department for Education offers a 16 to 19 Bursary Fund to help young people attend a post 16 education or training placement. To find out more visit the Department for Education website.
The changes would be implemented in April 2014 and would be monitored and reviewed for potential impact on SEN students on a monthly basis.
Councillor Jeremy Millar, cabinet member for young people and children’s wellbeing, said: “The council currently offers more than it is legally required to in terms of education transport and at a time when it needs to save £33million over the next three years due to decreasing government budgets, it is imperative that savings across all services are considered.
“From the 3,600 students who receive free transport, 850 of those receive a service which is more than the council is legally required to provide. We simply cannot continue to provide this additional service in light of the massive savings the council needs to make. It is a fact that every taxpayer in Herefordshire is subsidising education transport and for those parents who currently pay for their children's transport, they are actually paying twice. This is not equitable or the best use of taxpayers’ money.
“It must be stressed that the council will still be providing school transport, albeit at the statutory level to the nearest school only, which could mean a parental contribution is required.
“We appreciate that the changes will not be welcomed by all residents; however we have tried to lessen the impact where possible. As a result of the consultation, the council has decided not to implement an immediate full cost recovery plan; the changes will now be gradually phased in and kept under review. The changes will also not affect those students undertaking GCSEs in September 2014.
“The council is also considering implementing schemes to assist larger families and making the payment system easier and more flexible. We are also willing to work with individual schools to help them with their transport arrangements to ensure that school numbers remain unaffected.”
The papers which are due to be considered by cabinet are available on the council’s website.