ANGRY parents of children at faith schools in Cheshire West were offered a glimmer of hope when a scrutiny committee advised council bosses to continue providing transport subsidies.
Families packed the public gallery at Cheshire West and Chester’s HQ building to hear members discuss the issue.
After a three-hour debate, the committee voted to ask the ruling Executive to have a change of heart and maintain subsidies permanently or defer taking any action.
The Tory-controlled Executive had previously unanimously agreed to end faith school and post-16 subsidies after a seven-week consultation.
But Labour councillors, led by deputy spokesperson for children and young people Cllr Nicole Meardon, called in the decision for debate by the children and education scrutiny committee.
Cllr Meardon said the changes were discriminatory and would force GCSE students to transfer schools mid-course.
She said: “This proposal can only be seen as a further attack on the aspirations of our youth.”
Conservative councillor for Newton Adrian Walmsley advised members to follow the example of Cheshire East Council, which postponed a similar decision.
He said: “They have decided to pause for one year so they can have a really good look and I think that Cheshire West Executive should do the same.”
Teacher Chris Wilkinson said staff and students at Bishops’ Blue Coat CE High School in Chester had been ‘stunned’ by the decision.
He said: “It was stated that this was an exhaustive response to the consultation, but we felt that fell on deaf ears.”
Council Leader Mike Jones denied the consultation had been ignored: “There is a difference between listening and agreeing. We have listened very intently.”
Executive member for education and children Cllr Mark Stocks said the decision was a not a ‘foregone conclusion’: “The consultation was comprehensive and our officers have worked diligently.
“It’s clear that those that have directly responded have been those directly benefitting from the system.”
In response to claims of discrimination, Cllr Stocks said: “Education is changing. We are seeing that with the emergence of academies. In the 21st century, we have different issues to address.”