Dozens of parents in Tattenhall are furious their children are being ‘forced’ into taking public transport to school after Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) stopped paying for their school bus.
Parents of Year 6 pupils about to leave Tattenhall Park Primary School and start Bishop Heber High School in Malpas this September are fuming they will have to pay £627 per year for their child to catch a public bus likely to have insufficient space for them all, after the council ‘forced through’ changes in policy by withdrawing the school bus for incoming Tattenhall pupils attending the Malpas school.
And they say their children are being denied spare seats on a free ‘nearly empty’ school bus service for existing Bishop Heber pupils, leaving them to walk more than a mile down country roads to the public bus stop, without pavements or adequate lighting during winter, while the free bus ‘sails past’ their front door.
Parent and Tattenhall Park Primary School governor Chris Larkin whose 11-year-old daughter is about to start at Bishop Heber, branded the situation ‘ridiculous’.
“The existing free bus service will have a large proportion of its seats empty but our children are not being allowed these spare seats,” he said.
“I’ve even offered to pay for a seat to at least ensure my daughter travels the seven miles to school under supervision but CWaC have so far refused despite me writing to them on several occasions.
“Some parents in remote parts of the village are going to have one child already attending Bishop Heber being picked up outside their house on the free service, whilst their other younger child is having to walk over a mile into the village, paying every day to catch the unsupervised public bus,” he added.
Tensions are running so high in Tattenhall that more than 50 parents and members of Tattenhall Parish Council attended a meeting last Friday to discuss how they could take action on the issue.
Parent Suzanne Miller told The Chronicle: “We are all up in arms and fully supportive of each other because of the impact this will have on the village.
'We're being penalised for living in a rural village'
“We feel we are being penalised for being a rural village and see paying for the public bus as an extra tax,” she said.
Another parent, Leanne Wheeler, added: “I seriously wonder how much money is actually going to be saved. What is the additional cost of transporting children to Malpas instead of Tarporley because the difference in distance is less than half a mile?
“It seems that in fact there is only a handful of people elsewhere who are affected and Tattenhall is bearing the brunt of this policy change,” she said.
There are also concerns the long-standing relationship between Tattenhall Park and Bishop Heber schools could be ‘under threat’.
Laura Noble, headteacher of the primary school, said: “Pupils from Tattenhall Park have for generations have gone to Bishop Heber.
“The close collaboration between the two schools is under threat as many parents will not be able to afford to send their children to Bishop Heber. With Tarporley and Christleton High Schools oversubscribed, children may be forced to go to schools even further away – potentially out of the county.”
CWaC head of education Mark Parkinson said: “All home to school transport policy changes relating to discretionary council provision were extensively consulted on, including a public drop-in session at Tattenhall Park Primary School, before the final decision was taken in spring 2014.
“Throughout the borough, only a relatively small proportion of children are eligible to free transport to and from school. Many of these children who are eligible for assistance are provided with a bus pass on a commercial service.
“Children who don’t qualify for transport under the school transport policy can, and do, use commercial bus services each day and pay a fare to get to and from school. The 41 bus service links Tattenhall and Malpas and already transports some Bishop Heber pupils.
“A one-off mitigation fund of £25k was created in response to concerns expressed by rural communities following the change of policy. The allocation of this fund will be implemented by the end of the school term.”
He added: “The council will continue to provide transport where it is statutorily obliged to do so and continue to work with all its schools to promote sustainable travel solutions.”