Parents could face large bills for school transport

Transport row Credit: ITV Anglia

Getting your child into the school of your choice can be fraught with stress and emotion.

Now many parents in Suffolk say proposed changes to the school transport system will be another obstacle in their way.

The creation of Free Schools is forcing the county council to reconsider how it provides school transport. The council is proposing that instead of paying for transport to a child's catchment school, if a free school is closer, it will pay for transport to that instead.

This affects existing schools in Leiston, Haverhill and Mildenhall who would all see a reduction in the number of pupils qualifying for free transport to their school.

The idea is not proving popular in Saxmundham, which currently falls in the catchment area of Leiston High School.

If the plan goes ahead, children here would no longer get free transport to Leiston. A poster promoting the new Saxmundham Free School in the town has been vandalised; its slogan reading, 'Your Child, Your Choice' has been altered to read, 'Your Child, No Choice.'

The row has had the unlikely effect of uniting parents who support Saxmundham Free School and those who oppose it, with both groups saying the county council's proposal will remove parent choice.

For Sarah Pastor who has worked hard to set up the free school in Saxmundham, the move would be a set back. She told Anglia News:

Thirteen year old James Gadd from Saxmundham wants to go to Leiston high School because it offers more vocational courses than the proposed Free School. His mother Susan was dismayed to find herself no longer in the catchment area for Leiston.

James should still get free transport to Leiston as he starts in September and the changes are proposed for 2013, but Susan Gadd says many parents will miss out:

Leiston High School Credit: ITV Anglia

New Free Schools could also impact the free transport provided to Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill and Mildenhall College of Technology.

The Headteacher at Mildenhall, Susan Byles, says the new transport policy will be bad news for parents:

The county council however, says providing free transport costs 1000 pounds per child and they can't afford to spend more.

Councillor Graham Newman adds that spending more on school transport would put other services at risk:

Parents in Suffolk have until June 1st to take part in the public consultation on the proposed changes to school transport.

Outside Suffolk, the results of that consultation will hold implications for any county where transport to Free Schools has to be accommodated; Luton borough Council have said they may have to revisit their overall school travel policy at some point in the future.