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.”

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  1. steve

    A key issue here is that the LA advised parents (when their children were in Year 6) that their nearest school (for admissions) was Boston Spa and therefore parents selected that school.

    The LA have now turned around and said they’ll only fund transport to the nearest school which is Wetherby – so everyone at Boston Spa has to pay.

    Parents have come back with “hang on, you said our nearest school was Boston Spa” but the LA have said they use a different method for calculating nearest school for free transport purposes (crow flies vs shortest road route).

    Parents asked how they were meant to know this – and how could they check. The LA advised they use a commerical mapping product which is not publically available ie there is no way at all that parents could possibly know!

    • Sophie. this has happened to us in Essex two years ago unfortunately. Please look at our Facebook group, Essex Against School Transport Cuts. Many of us who live more than 3 miles away from a secondary chose our ‘catchment’ schools as four previous generations have done unaware the council had withdrawn funding. We’re now having to pay up to £900 per year for school transport we expected to be free, having a major impact on our children.