Cuts to free school transport are to be made from next year but Bradford Council’s executive has pledged to look into ways of reducing the cost of a school bus pass to help those affected by the changes.
The cost-cutting measures are intended to save £95,000 from next financial year and see the council ending discretionary travel assistance in certain circumstances.
These are in relation to faith schools, under fives with special educational needs, pupils whose families move house in the final year of school, pupils attending pupil referral units, and pupils whose school is nearer by a straight line even if there is a nearer school by available walking route.
The council will continue to offer free school transport to those living more than the statutory walking distance from their nearest available school.
This is classed as two miles for under eights and three miles for those eight-years-old and over.
As the new criteria applies to those attending school from September 2015, pupils who already receive free transport will not be affected by the changes.
Executive members agreed to charge up to £370 a year per pupil for a pass to travel on a dedicated school bus service – the equivalent of a School Plus Metrocard – although Councillor David Green, leader of the Labour-run council said they would look at the actual cost of the service and endeavour to bring the price down.
The moves, particularly in relation to faith schools, have come under fire, with a petition against the changes attracting nearly 350 signatures. Caroline Hyde, chairman of Bishop Wheeler Catholic Academy Trust, which runs Sacred Heart Catholic Primary in Ilkley, and St Mary's, Menston, spoke out at yesterday’s meeting of the executive.
She said it was an attack on faith schools and against the current guidance from the Department for Education. In addition it would push cash-strapped families into sending their children to schools closer to home, taking spaces that would have gone to other local children.
“There has been no consideration of how parents will respond by choosing other schools,” she said.
Coun Green said: “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t necessarily be having this discussion, but we are in a situation where we are under incredible budget pressure and we have to look to protect the frontline services that are the most important to people of the district. Every available penny we can save in terms of infrastructure is important.”
Councillor Ralph Berry, executive member for children and young people’s services, said: “In the last few years the majority of local authorities have reduced their spending in this area. We continue to be one of the highest spending on school transport in the country.”
“I would love for us to be able to offer every child a free bus pass,” he added.
“We are running out of options,” added Council Green.