THE headteacher of a church school claims that proposed cuts to bus subsidies will ‘decimate’ faith schools and lead to them becoming selective.
Justin Blakeborough, headteacher of Bishops’ Bluecoat CE High School, was speaking about Cheshire West and Chester Council’s proposal to ditch school transport subsidies for children attending faith schools and youngsters in post-16 education.
He said: “We are an inclusive school with pupils from a wide cross-section of the community. If the council goes ahead with these cuts, the school will become available only to those who can afford to send their children here.”
Last month, the council proposed a ‘fair travel cost policy for all parents’ by ending the subsidies.
On Wednesday, June 15, more than 100 parents and pupils turned up to a meeting at Chester Catholic High School to hear council leader Mike Jones and deputy director of children and young people’s services John Stephens outline the plans, which they claim will save £1m.
Angry parents accused Mr Jones of being anti-religion after he described the current system as inequitable. If a chosen school is non-denominational, parents receive no help with travel costs.
Almost half of Bishops’ pupils travel to school by bus with a high proportion receiving the subsidy. About a quarter of Catholic High School students use the bus.
As well as the cost implication parents expressed concern for the speed of the consultation. If implemented, the subsidy would be withdrawn from September 2012.
One woman from Blacon, whose son is a Year 9 pupil and will start his GCSE course this September, was concerned that he might have to change schools mid-course.
She said: “When the council cut the subsidy three years ago, I took on an extra job to be able to pay £299 a year towards his bus fare. If this cut goes ahead I will not be able to afford to send him here.”
Headteacher of Catholic High School John Murray has suggested that, if implemented, all students currently receiving the subsidy should continue to do so, until they reach the end of their Year 11 studies.
Labour councillor David Robinson, who was at the meeting, has called for an extension to the consultation, which ends on July 3 with a decision expected by July 13.
He said: “The Labour group has called for pre-decision scrutiny to be carried out with the decision pushed back to September. So far this has not been agreed but having listened to the feeling of the meeting I do hope the leader of the council will reflect on the strong views that he heard and delay the decision process.”
Other concerns include the effect on the council’s carbon footprint if parents or pupils resort to driving to school in cars instead of using the bus.
Council spokesperson Rachel Ashley said: “Transport subsidy to children with special educational needs and in receipt of free school meals will remain unchanged.
“Any spare seats in taxis or minibuses already travelling to these schools will be offered to those affected by this proposal.”
The council’s commitment to sustainability states an aim to secure ‘a sustainable future for us all’. It promises to address the way it delivers services including ‘the energy we use in our buildings and in travelling between offices as well as to and from work’.
Today (Thursday) is the last chance for the public to give their views on the council’s transport proposal. Drop in to the Northgate Arena between 2.30-7.30pm.
See our Views pages (36-37) for readers’ reactions on this issue.