Families with students going into post-16 education next month are being urged to apply for their passes to ensure that they can get a place on the school bus at the start of term.
With only a week to go, the Northumberland County Council staff who have to process applications need time to do so and have received very few to date.
Speaking after a meeting with council officers yesterday, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Berwick, said: “This change will mean that young people, in rural areas in particular, will be discriminated against as many have to travel long distances. Many of these now feel that they have no choice but to pull out of further education opportunities because of the travel costs involved. We should be encouraging learning to be easier to access, not making it more difficult.”
Mrs Trevelyan is calling on council leaders to agree to support students who have long distances to travel because they are unable to find similar courses within the county for the 2014-15 year. This transitional support will be more important than ever under new laws requiring education or training up to age 18, which come into force in September.
She added: “High schools are trying to provide transitional support for any families that fall just outside the free school transport support group, so it is again important that parents apply so that County Hall staff can link them in with schools. It would be a tragedy to see those kids missing out on the chance to further their education and find the council picking them up through children’s services.
“Council officers are trying to implement new policy – however flawed – and need families to send in their application forms so that bus passes can be processed. The county council has agreed to be flexible on the £200 up-front payment which has been demanded by the new Labour policy, so I urge parents to contact the council with the application form which can also be found online.”
Meanwhile, her Lib-Dem counterpart, Julie Pörksen, said: “I am pleased the Department for Education has eventually responded and has spoken to Northumberland County Council about post-16 transport.
“They state that intervention would only be considered if complaints processes have been exhausted locally so I am therefore calling on parents and students who have been objecting to this policy to write into the council and make formal complaints, either about being refused free transport on an individual basis or about the wider unfairness of the post-16 transport policy in general. We can then go back to the Secretary of State and request further support.
“I really believe Labour’s decision to charge for post-16 transport discriminates against rural teenagers in Northumberland, overturning this decision would help give Northumberland’s young people the education and career prospects they deserve.”
The Labour group has consistently explained the reasons for its decision to cut the funding, citing the huge cuts the council must make, the drain of money from the county as students travel to colleges on Tyneside and the fact that funding changes and bursary-fund cash means schools and colleges can fund transport themselves.
Plus, while the council charge will be £600, the actual cost is around £900 for an urban student and £1,100 in the rural areas. Around £1million is being left in the scheme to fund transport for young people with special educational needs or from low-income backgrounds and one in five post-16 students will benefit from these parachute payments.