A SCRUTINY committee has decided that Herefordshire Council's cabinet should think again about a decision which could see pupils driven out of county schools.
Herefordshire Council’s general, overview and scrutiny committee called-in cabinet's decision – made last month – to implement a set of major changes to the county's school transport policy.
That decision ruled that children would be provided with free transport to their nearest school – with places and in England – only and not a catchment school as previously.
Post-16 Special Educational Needs (SEN) and mainstream pupils would be charged £720 for their seat under the scheme, and that would also be the fee for parents who continue to use transport to a school which is not the nearest.
And despite Jo Davidson, director for children's wellbeing at Herefordshire Council, insisting that the council was not "forcing" parents to move their children, members of the committee remained concerned about the potential impact of the change.
In particular, post-16 SEN proposals "go against" the council's first principle of protecting the vulnerable, according to the committee.
And as a result, it wants cabinet to “delete” its decision regarding post-16 SEN transport and replace it with a requirement to introduce a suitable “formula" to provide free or primarily subsidised transport according to need and means for those pupils.
Other grants and opportunities were available to help cover transport costs for SEN students, cabinet had reported, but councillor Gary Swinford raised concern that those bursaries could see money for families lost elsewhere.
To offset the impact of the decision on SEN pupils, the committee wants measures put in place to ensure parents are given guidance and support by the council about access to new funding and bursaries.
The committee also wants to set up a task and finish group to look into whether the council, schools and colleges review the use of bursaries and the provision of information for applicants to those bursaries.
The implementation of the policy – scheduled for September 2014 – should be put back to September 2015 to give parents time to consider their child's high school choices, the committee recommended.
An amendment of the policy decision to include the choice of “nearest school in-county” should also be strongly reconsidered, the committee heard.
Members also want officers to hold "urgent" meetings with schools which may be the most impacted as well as their local transport providers, community transport providers and local ward cluster members.
Those meetings are an effort to determine the potential full impact of the decision and to identify any measures which could minimise the effects.