(Title Image: Wales Online)
Next week, a joint meeting of two of Bridgend Council’s scrutiny committees will discuss the main findings from a consultation exercise carried out on proposed changes to home-school transport in the county (pdf).
The proposals include:
- Withdrawing free transport for pupils living less than 2 miles from a primary school or 3 miles from a secondary school and who also live along an identified safe route to school; this will apply equally to English-medium, Welsh-medium and faith schools.
- Removing escorts from taxis and minibuses carrying less than eight passengers.
- Withdrawing all free transport for nursery pupils.
- Withdrawing all free transport for post-16 learners (except special needs, Welsh-medium and faith-based post-16 students).
- Removing entitlement to free transport for pupils who have siblings eligible for transport under the old rules.
The changes are now expected to be introduced from September 2021 (a year later than planned), potentially saving £775,000.
The reaction to the proposals has been wholly negative, with none of the options having majority support (pdf).
Other concerns raised include having to travel too far (and in poor weather), the lack of safe walking and cycling routes, the additional costs of having to pay for transport, the negative impact on Welsh-medium education and special needs students (views on faith schools were mixed) and the potential negative impact on the environment as more children are driven to school in cars.
Another running theme was that the new policy may discourage students from staying on to post-16 education.
There was some confusion also over what the removal of escorts means in practice too; many people seem to think the escorts were there for medical reasons vis-a-vis special needs pupils, but this apparently isn’t the case.
All of this considered, the financial situation is becoming more serious. £1.8million has been cut from the home-school transport budget since 2014-15, but there was still a £1.1million overspend in 2019-20.
The two committees will have an opportunity to make recommendations at the meeting before final plans are drafted for the Cabinet’s approval.