"Crackpot scheme" : Anger at Herefordshire Council's school transport proposals (From Ledbury Reporter)
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"Crackpot scheme" : Anger at Herefordshire Council's school transport proposals
A “CRACKPOT scheme” to alter the county’s school transport system could “destroy”education in many parts of the county.
So says Herefordshire councillor Terry James who responded to the front page report in last week’s Hereford Times by claiming those behind the proposals have little understanding of state schools.
Under the proposals, free school transport would only be available to the nearest primary or secondary school for children in year 11 and below.
That would replace the current provision of free transport to either the nearest school or, crucially, a school in the catchment area.
Coun James, Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “You’ve got people in the executive who have no children in the schools and don’t understand how schools in the state system work. It’s going to severely harm the education of thousands of children and their life choices.”
Coun James added that the council may have to pay more in the long-term should children have to be relocated due to school closures brought about by the changes.
Councillor Sebastian Bowen, leader of Herefordshire’s independent group, said it was “extraordinary” that children are being pushed into schools not even in the county.
“If you live in Kington you might even have to go across the border into Wales and John Beddoes is a failing school,” he said.
Both councillors suggested giving schools their own budget and letting them run their own transport schemes as a possible alternative.
Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire agreed. He said: “That way, the schools can make appropriate local arrangements and the council will have fulfilled its legal obligations.”
There are fears that the proposals would particularly affect children and schools in rural parts of the county, forcing children into schools in the city or even outside the county border.
Making that point in a noisy Tuesday morning protest were children, staff and parents from Credenhill Primary School.
They would, as the situation currently stands, go on to study at their catchment school of Weobley. However, under the new proposals the free bus service would be lost as they would be expected to attend their closest school – Whitecross in Hereford.
Dean Williams, headteacher at Weobley High School, said the potential disruption would be “far-reaching” and “long-term”.
He said: “The whole school provision in Herefordshire and the longstanding relationships with cluster primary schools are based on existing catchment areas where families then send their children to their catchment secondary school.
“This would alter rapidly as parents would understandably begin to make their decisions based on transport costs rather than their intended cluster school.
“The council could actually lose money as many children’s nearest school will no longer be in Herefordshire and the money will follow them to another school in another county. This alone could amount to far more than any potential savings, never mind the human costs and impact on schools and families.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Evans, headteacher at Ledbury’s John Masefield High School, said: “We are currently oversubscribed and at our recent open evening the most common question was ‘will my child get a place?’.
“We have worked extremely hard to be in this fortunate position and feel that to deny parents to right to attend their catchment school, without financial penalty, is possibly discriminatory.
“Some of our prospective parents have told us that they will simply not be able to afford to send their children to JMHS and, under the terms of the revised policy, are being condemned to attend a failing and inadequate school which is out of Herefordshire.”
Andy Hough, interim head of service at Herefordshire Council, said: "The council is pleased to have received a high level of interest in the school transport consultation and council officers have been talking to interested groups of staff and parents as part of the process.
"While there are clearly a high number of people opposed to the proposals, there are others who have expressed the view that the council should not fund more than is legally required."