Pupils forced to switch school after free transport cut

Pupils forced to switch school after free transport cut

Parents are considering transferring their children to a new school after a local authority tightened up rules around free transport to save costs – with a warning from the Local Government Association that more councils could follow suit.

East Keswick parish council has lodged a complaint with Leeds city council after the latter’s decision to scrap free transport to Boston Spa secondary school.

Parents say they might move their children because they cannot afford the nearly £10 weekly transport costs.

The move from Leeds is the latest in a series by local authorities trying to save money as grants from the government are cut by up to 40 per cent.

Andrew Batty, chair of East Keswick, told Schools Week: “Nobody wants to see their children leaving their friends and their teachers, but this might now happen.”

Leeds’ decision means parents in the villages of both East Keswick and Bardsey will no longer get free transport to send their children to Boston Spa – rated good by Ofsted and historically the preferred choice in the area.

Instead they now only get free transport to Wetherby high school, a much smaller school rated as requires improvement.

Boston Spa and Wetherby are five miles from both villages, according to online mapping services. But Leeds says their new system shows that Wetherby is closer.

Batty, who said parents are now paying £9.50 a week to send their children to Boston Spa, added: “They [Leeds council] are trying to save money left, right and centre. It’s unfair on the parents and means that some have considered pulling their children out of Boston Spa to go to Wetherby as it is such a burden on them financially.”

Leeds council did not provide a comment, but pointed Schools Week to the agenda for its council executive next meeting on Wednesday.

It read: “The implementation of the policy has to date contributed to the intended outcome of delivering a substantial reduction in discretionary spending, thus ensuring money is spent wisely.”

Schools Week has previously reported similar decisions in North Yorkshire and Kent, which both axed free home-to-school transport for certain children.

Pupils are entitled to free transport to their “nearest” school. In most cases, this is within a three-mile radius.

However, for rural areas this distance is expanded to entitle them to transport to the closest school, and funded through “extended rights” grants from the government.

Leeds city council has seen its extended rights grants cut from £241,000 in 2014-15, to £117,600 for 2016-17.

Nationally, there has been a 25 per cent decrease in funding, from £25 million to £18 million, in the same period.

Some local authorities have faced even larger cuts. Stoke-on-Trent, for example, has had an 82 per cent decrease in extended rights funding, down to just £38,000.

The Local Government Association told Schools Week that budget pressures meant that decisions like those in Leeds would become more frequent.

A spokesperson said: “Councils are working with schools and parents to provide the best possible home-to-school transport.

“However, they have experienced significant reductions in government funding that has meant having to make difficult decisions.”