School bus plans could hit parents in the pocket

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HUNDREDS of parents could end up out of pocket for sending their child to the borough’s only faith school.

They now face having to foot the bill for their children’s buses to school.

North Tyneside Council is reviewing its home-to-school transport arrangements as part of a cost-cutting drive, and it is being proposed that pupils living more than three miles away from their schools should no longer be given free bus passes.

Students over the age of 16 could also lose their 50 per cent discount on transport to school or college.

The move will hit St Thomas More RC High School in North Shields hardest as it is the only faith school in the borough, drawing more than 400 of its 1,700-plus pupils from over three miles away.

Children travelling there from Benton, Longbenton, Dudley and Killingworth would be among those affected.

North Tyneside youngsters travelling out of the borough to Catholic schools in Bedlington, Fenham and the western side of Longbenton would also lose their free bus fares.

North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon has raised the issue in Parliament, saying the proposals are causing concern among staff and parents.

At an education question time in the House of Commons, the former North Tyneside councillor called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to support parents fighting the plans, branding them unfair.

She said: “The secretary of state himself was concerned and said he would look into the specific situation as he supported exercising school choice and faith schools.

“I hope that North Tyneside Council will take heed of Mr Gove’s answer and reconsider these proposals that will affect many children in North Tyneside.

“I intend to follow up the minister’s reply to make sure he stays true to his word.

“The government is reviewing its home-to-school transport policy, and I want the minister to stay mindful of what North Tyneside Council is proposing.

“The council needs to know that cutting such a valuable resource as the home-to-school transport budget to help balance the books is not an acceptable efficiency.”

The Lynn Road school declined to comment.

The council has written to all those affected by the proposed changes, and a consultation period ended last month.

The current discretionary arrangements by the council provide free transport to all pupils up to the age of eight travelling more than two miles – or more than three miles in the case of pupils aged eight to 16– to a school chosen on grounds of faith.

The cost of the policy is about £66,000 a year, and the half-price travel offered to students over the age of 16 adds another £25,000 to the bill.

All pupils from low-income families, including those entitled to free school meals or on the maximum level of working tax credit, as well as pupils unable to travel independently because of disabilities, are entitled to free transport.

A council spokesperson said: “North Tyneside Council has carried out a consultation on proposed changes to its home to school transport policy following a review.

“The review has been undertaken as part of a review of spending across the council.

“The council’s cabinet will now take the consultation feedback into consideration before making any decision on the proposed changes, at its forthcoming meeting on Monday, March 7.”