The introduction of the £600 charge for post-16 transport had very little impact on where students chose to go to study, councillors heard.
During a discussion on the proposed axing of the fees, which have been described by opponents as a teenage tax, a meeting heard that during the three years in which charges have been in place, the numbers of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds travelling out of the county to go to Newcastle College actually rose.
As previously reported, to meet a manifesto promise, the Conservative administration at County Hall has allocated £2.2million over the next two years to reintroduce free post-16 transport.
The council’s cabinet is set to launch a consultation on the proposed changes to the policy on Tuesday, with the aim of it being published on May 31 so it is in place for the start of the new academic year in September.
Ahead of this, it went before the members of the family and children’s services scrutiny committee, which recommended that it should be added to the policy that it is ‘at the discretion of the county council’ due to Northumberland being ‘such a large and varied county’.
Councillors also sought clarification on a number of the details of the proposed new policy.
Responding to a question about how it may impact some of the county’s schools, Andy Johnson, the director of education, revealed that ‘a quite sizeable piece of work’ to assess the current policy had been carried out.
“Broadly speaking, we came to the conclusion that the impact had been marginal or nothing at all,” he said. “Not to say it was a good thing or a bad thing, but on the actual choice (students) made, the introduction of those charges seemed to have very little impact.”
Other issues raised by members included the eligibility criteria, including the definition of ‘nearest appropriate provider’, which is the only place for which students can receive free transport, and the proposed £50 admin fee, which is designed to cover the workload as well as deter anyone who may apply for the sake of it.