Rural pupils will be ‘penalised’ for staying at school

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

Furious parents have pledged not to send their children to school at a cost of £600 a year following a decision to axe free transport for over 16s.

Last Thursday, Northumberland County Council agreed to scrap its free-transport scheme for pupils over 16 years of age to a place of further education or training.

From September 1, students will pay the full cost where public transport is available, or £600 a year to travel on council-contracted school transport.

But a group of parents in Seahouses say they won’t be stumping up the money.

Sue Patterson, whose son is due to go into Sixth Form at the Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick in September, said: “Our children are going to get penalised for staying at school. I’ve encouraged my son, you either stay on at school or do an apprenticeship. There aren’t many apprenticeships around here.

“He decided to stay at school, now he gets kicked in the teeth.”

Described as ‘outrageous discrimination’ by the county’s Lib Dems and the ‘teenage tax’ by Northumberland Conservatives, the controversial decision to end free transport for post-16 students was passed by seven votes to two at the council’s policy board meeting last week.

“We’re now expected to pay £600 a year and it is absolute madness,” Ms Patterson said.

“The kids who live in Alnwick can just walk to school. Ours have to pay £600 a year. Are we going to get a better teacher for £600? No we’re not, we’re not going to get anything. Why should we pay? It’s not fair.”

Villagers feel the decision could have a wider impact on the area, with younger families put off moving to the area.

“Our children are very lucky to live here,” Ms Patterson said. “I was born and bred here and I love everything about it. I don’t like the fact that our children are penalised because we live here.

“It’s picking on rural families and I feel very cheated. We’re not prepared to put up with it. I will not be paying the £600. So we need to come up with a better idea.”

Northumberland County Council said it was unusual for local authorities still to provided free transport for 16 to 19-year-old students.

All councils have a duty to ensure that suitable transport is available so that post-16 students can get to school or college. However, they are not required to pay the fares for the students.

But Seahouses mum-of-two, Carol Fawcus, said: “Northumberland is the most rural county, yet our county councillors agreed that it would go along with this.”

The group has vowed to fight to see free transport reinstated. They are setting up an action group and will have a presence on social media to find out if parents in other rural areas affected such as Wooler, Belford and Shilbottle want to join the fight.