Decision on axing of free post-16 transport due next week

School transport buses parked outside the Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick.
School transport buses parked outside the Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick.

The county council looks set to end free transport for post-16 students from September.

Northumberland County Council has to make savings of £65million over the next two years. Against this challenging financial context, the authority decided to review post-16 transport and consulted with the public on the proposals.

A decision will be taken at the council’s policy board meeting next Thursday on plans to end free transport for post-16 students, saving £2.4million a year. The changes will affect one per cent of Northumberland’s households.

The current scheme will be retained for all post-16 students who will continue their studies in September 2014. Special provision would be made to exempt the most vulnerable groups, such as students with special educational needs or those from low-income backgrounds who attend their nearest appropriate school or college.

Since the free post-16 student travel scheme was implemented in 2008, the number of students engaged in post-16 education has not increased, yet the costs to the council have increased to £3.3million per year. The average annual cost to the council of transport per student is currently in the region of £936 a year.

A report to the policy board states that given the budget challenges facing the council, the current approach to school transport is no longer sustainable and alternative options to reduce costs need to be considered. Following the public consultation, a recommendation has been made to councillors to end the current scheme where 3,500 post-16 students are eligible for free transport to school or college.

When students opt to attend courses out of the county, there is also a loss of potential income to Northumberland-based education providers. The report asks members to consider the opportunity that the withdrawal of free transport could provide for school sixth forms and colleges in Northumberland to extend the range of courses they can offer.

In the future, where students pay for their travel, this will mean either paying the full cost where public transport is available or a standard charge of £600 per annum where the council will continue to provide specific contracted school transport.