28th Oct, 2016

Heads hit out at plans to scrap free buses to grammar schools

Sophie Heaviside 16th Oct, 2015 Updated: 9 hours ago

PLANS to take away free bus travel for pupils attending grammar schools in the district has been branded “fundamentally unfair”.

Warwickshire County Council is to make parents of pupils – who previously qualified for free travel – pay to send their children on local authority run buses to KES, Stratford Girls Grammar, and Alcester Grammar if they are not the closest schools to the family home.

KES Headteacher Bennet Carr said removing free transport from existing grammar school pupils was “fundamentally unfair”.

He told The Observer: “It is my strongly held view that these changes will be detrimental to the education of children living in Warwickshire.

“Whilst I am more than aware of the current financial difficulties in the public sector, I find it particularly regrettable that at a time when we are campaigning to increase access for children from families with lower incomes, the council is changing its transport policy, which is likely to deter those from moderate and low incomes from applying.”

Stratford Girl’s Grammar head Kate Barnett echoed the concerns.

She said: “While we are aware that further budget restrictions are necessary, our biggest concern about the decision to withdraw free transport from new pupils from September 2016 is the significant and negative impact this will have on those on low incomes, whom we encourage to apply to us in the interests of widening access and improving social mobility.

“It is disappointing to note that the education of these pupils could be targeted.”

And Alcester Grammar School head Clive Sentance said while he understood the difficult position the council was in he did not agree with the latest move and warned the local economy could suffer.

He said: “The local economy will probably be the real loser since most parents are always going to prioritise their children’s education over non-essential spending.”

By law the county council has to provide transport to the nearest school for pupils living more than three miles away. Grammar schools are often not the nearest school for most pupils attending them, but the authority has previously overlooked the fact and allowed them free travel.

But in the on-going struggle to balance the books, the council is now looking to make all new grammar school pupils who do not qualify for free transport, pay from September 2016.

Council chiefs agreed a range of measures – including price hikes for those already paying for school transport – to save some £1.6million a year, although only £78,000 of this would come from taking away existing free transport to grammar schools. The council is looking to make overall cuts of £92million by 2018.

County education spokesman Colin Hayfield defended the changes.

He said: “Cabinet was faced with a series of very difficult recommendations for savings from our school transport budget and none of these were easy.

“These changes will, in the vast majority of cases, not affect pupils in schools who are currently receiving free school transport but will affect new pupils entering schools from September 2016.”