A COUNTY head teacher has hit out after Herefordshire Council’s cabinet pushed through changes to its school transport policy yesterday.
Cabinet last week approved its original decision to impose a set of major changes to the county’s school transport policy, despite having been asked to reconsider many aspects of it by a scrutiny committee.
That means that from September, children will only be provided with free transport to their nearest schools and not catchment school as previously.
Parents who continue to choose transport to a school which is not the nearest will be charged £720 and that will be the same fee for post-16 Special Educational Needs students (SEN).
But Andrew Shaw, head teacher at Wigmore High School believes cabinet has made a “crass error of judgement”.
“There will be children who attend, would be attending, have siblings at and had their hearts set on, a certain school which may now be in question,” he said.
“Ethically and morally those parents who now find themselves in a position where they have to effectively pay for their child's education have been badly let down.
“We have several examples where children whose parents can't afford to pay to go to their catchment school will be shipped out of county, along with their funding, and in some cases to schools in special measures, in another authority – taking them away from an outstanding Herefordshire school.
“Trading on the belief that parents will want the best for their children and therefore have to pay is a wholeheartedly questionable approach for the LA Officers and cabinet to take."
He added that depending on schools to "fix" the issue is "simply wrong".
“This whole process has shown the council failings, a lack of listening, ineptitude beyond belief and a real lack of understanding.
“This level of ignorance divides communities and I believe that the good schools in Herefordshire will of course rise to the challenge as best they can to protect our children and our most vulnerable. Something which Herefordshire council continues to fail to do.”
However, Jo Davidson, director for people’s wellbeing at Herefordshire Council, said that officers had been monitoring parental preference “very carefully” with no evidence of significant reduction of numbers at schools.
The scrutiny committee had specifically asked cabinet to “delete” its decision regarding post-16 SEN transport and replace it with a means and need tested “formula” to provide free or subsidised transport.
That recommendation was rejected by the cabinet member due it its “complex and bureaucratic process” – increasing costs.
It was what Councillor Terry James, leader of Herefordshire Liberal Democrats, described as a “very sad day”.
“Ultimately we will see greater cost because we will see one or two schools closing and will have to pick up additional costs. It is just short-sightedness,” he added.