Parents plan protest over post-16 transport cut

Howard Snaith school transport buses parked outside the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.
Howard Snaith school transport buses parked outside the Duchess's High School in Alnwick.

Angry parents have planned a protest against the return of transport charges for students in post-16 education.

The demonstration is set to take place on Monday evening outside the Duchess’s Community High School, in Alnwick, from 5.30pm.

Parents also plan to attend Northumberland County Council’s north area committee meeting on Monday in Longhorsley at 6pm to voice their concerns.

The protests come on the back of the axing of free transport for post-16 students in Northumberland. The controversial plan was approved at the end of last month by the county council’s policy board.

The decision to cut the funding, which will mean students have to pay full public-transport costs or a standard charge of £600, was voted through by seven votes to two.

Members of the Labour administration have reiterated the budgetary situation in which the council finds itself and the need to make difficult decisions.

Ending free transport for post-16 students will save £2.4million a year and the changes will affect one per cent of Northumberland’s households.

The current scheme will be retained for all post-16 students who continue their studies in September 2014. Special provision will 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.

However, protestors have branded it a ‘teenage tax’ and claimed that rural communities are being discriminated against by the county council.

The parents who have planned Monday’s protest have set up a Facebook page, Parents Against Decision to Scrap the Post-16 School Transport, which has more than 360 members.

Writing on the page, Carol Fawcus said: “Northumberland County Council have amended the policy on post-16 transport. They are planning to charge £600 for each child to use school transport. This group has been set up to oppose this decision.

“We need to get as many parents who are opposed to this as possible to join this group and start to put pressure on the council to change their decision.”

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 has 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 council Labour group spokesperson said: “We understand that people will be upset about the change in policy but we would point out that the coalition government supported by local politicians from Lib Dems and Conservatives have cut the council budget by a third with further cuts of a quarter up to 2017. This means tough choices.

“Our plan leaves a £900,000 ‘parachute payment’ to allow schools and colleges to work out a local solution to the post-16 transport issue.

“Forty-nine per cent of post-16 pupils already study ‘in county’ and it’s with reluctance that we have to revisit a policy which hasn’t changed since its introduction in 2008.

“Since then demand has increased by 323 per cent yet funding has fallen by a third. Those students who study outside the county have taken £28million with them, largely to Tyne and Wear college since 2008.

“While we are sympathetic to how the decision has affected families we would point out that we will continue to protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people and the ‘parachute payment’ will allow post-16 educational establishments to plan ways to get young people to their courses.

“These protections were not offered by the coalition government when they scrapped Educational Maintenance Allowance and tripled tuition fees.”

A spokeswoman for the county council said that the authority did not wish to comment.