School transport back on the agenda & more

Bridgend Council (BCBC) held their monthly cabinet and full council meetings earlier this week, so it’s worth tracking what was discussed and follow up on a few things I’ve covered previously. All the necessary information is contained here (pdf – 29MB).

School transport plans due for (re)consultation

The long rumbling row over home-school transport is due to kick off again. Last year, BCBC proposed moving the boundary for free home-school transport from the current 1.5miles for primaries and 2 miles for secondaries to 2 miles for primaries and 3 miles for secondaries – which is the legal minimum (Who gets hit by Bridgend’s school bus proposals?).
Because the Welsh Government were discussing new guidelines on home-school transport, BCBC decided to postpone the plans for a year and return to it later.

Since then, detailed research has been undertaken by BCBC to determine the impact of the new policy. As a result of the research (the full details are available in the documents linked above), three proposed changes to home-school transport policy have been put forward for a 12-week consultation, which will probably be launched in the next few months has been launched (link below).

  • Proposal 1 – The boundary for free home-school transport for all state, Welsh-medium and voluntary-aided schools be move to the statutory minimum (2 miles & 3 miles) from September 2016. All schools will be treated equally this time around. So transport to Welsh-medium and voluntary aided schools will be guaranteed for pupils who live beyond the boundary, even if their chosen school isn’t the closest available school.
  • Proposal 2 – Charge the full cost of a bus pass for pupils who aren’t eligible for free home-school transport. The current charge is £270, but the real cost – which is hinted wouldbe charged – is a hefty £756 for primary pupils and £647 for secondary pupils.
  • Proposal 3 – Stop providing free transport for pupils aged 16+ who go to school or college. A hardship fund of £30,000 will be set up to provide subsidised transport places for pupils who are eligible, plus Education Maintenance Allowance (£30 per week) was set up with transport costs partly in mind.

As you can see, the big difference from the last set of proposals is that all schools will now be treated equally – which was a big concern for faith schools in particular. The policy change, if approved, will save BCBC just over £2million across 2016-17 and 2017-18, mostly as a result of scrapping free transport for over-16s.

The figures come into sharper focus following reports this week that suggest Bridgend Council will need to find up to an extra £14million in savings on top of the current £36million until 2018.

UPDATE  01/10/14 : Bridgend Council have opened the consultation, and it’ll remain open until 22nd December.

Term-time holiday fine proposals hit a bump

Following the Education Penalty Notice Regulations 2013 (pdf), introduced by the Welsh Government to some controversy, BCBC launched a public consultation between June and August this year on their possible introduction in Bridgend County. This would include the option of fining parents who take their children on holiday during term time.

Parents might well have legitimate reasons for doing so : it’s the only time they can get off due to working patterns, it’s the only way they can afford a holiday, it might even have a personal significance. However, absence from school affects performance, and with schools under more pressure than ever to keep attendance rates up to meet banding requirements, all forms of “unnecessary” absence are being clamped down upon.

Here are some of the key findings from the consultation responses :

  • 81% opposed a consistent county-wide approach to refusing term-time holidays. However, 93% of headteachers supported a consistent approach.
  • 95% agreed there needed to be exceptional circumstances for authorising absences.
    • 25% believe holiday and family time should be included
    • 17% compassionate circumstances (presumably meaning bereavements etc.)
    • 13% believe parents work constraints should be considered
    • 13% believe special events and celebrations (presumably weddings, religious ceremonies etc.)
    • 10% believe each case should be considered separately

So although everyone believes attendance is important, they clearly disagree with issuing truancy fines for term-time holidays or blanket bans – something matched by wider public opinion.

As a compromise, some suggest limited term-time holidays should be allowed based on the pupil’s attendance, performance and behaviour.

Glanogwr: Short path, big headache

It’s funny what motivates people to campaign….

Since Bridgend Town Council moved to Carnegie House (the old library), their former base at Glanogwr on the south side of Bridgend – which was shared with BCBC – has become surplus to requirements. BCBC subsequently put the building up for sale.

Subject to planning consent, the site has been sold to developers. As part of the deal, the footprint of the site could be extended to include a short path and copse linking Glanogwr Road and Bowham Avenue with steps to Newbridge Fields. It’s a popular shortcut for Brynteg Comprehensive pupils who live in Broadlands or Newcastle, as well as a shortcut to Bridgend Life Centre and the fields themselves.

The path itself is protected and will have to be diverted regardless, but the loss of even such a small piece of open space prompted a strong reaction from local residents, taking the form of a 289 signature petition, 56 formal objections, as well as a Facebook page.

As you can tell by the photo above (which I took earlier this week), if the path is reduce to a 2/3 metre wide alleyway along the edge, it’s going to be pretty grim and uninviting.

Grim and uninviting is, unfortunately, what’s coming.

BCBC have dismissed the objections, as Newbridge Fields is considered enough open space in itself that the loss of the copse won’t have a detrimental impact. BCBC’s cabinet has therefore decided to give final approval to the sale.

Bridgend Council go camera shy?

As I said back in December 2013, BCBC were supposed to have launched recording and/or streaming of full council meetings at the annual general meeting back in May. Then it was pushed back to July – nada. There doesn’t appear to be anything this month either.

I don’t own any tin-foil headwear, so I’m going to presume the delay has a reasonable explanation. That could be technical problems, or changes to what format the streams will take. I’m not going to be too impressed if they’ve had a last minute change of heart.

Judging by the minutes (which are usually produced 2-3 weeks after the meetings), in the absense of any real opposition, full council meetings in BCBC aren’t exactly riveting stuff, and make Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire look positively entertaining.

Having said that, as Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire have proven, it’s absolutely vital to see local democracy in action as it’s exists as a closed shop as it is. BCBC should launch the streams as soon as they practically can. They’ve dragged their feet on this long enough. It won’t be long until some people ask themselves what they’ve got to hide.