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Pupil Transport

Volume 476: debated on Monday 19 May 2008

4. What recent assessment he has made of the charging policies of local authorities for pupil transport to and from voluntary-aided schools; and if he will make a statement. (205967)

The Department is committed to enabling parents to exercise choice and access the range of schools, including the excellent education offered by many faith-based schools. The Department does not routinely conduct assessments of charging policies for transport to voluntary-aided schools. Local authorities are required to publish their policies on free and assisted home-to-school transport annually and to defend those policies locally.

Many North-West Leicestershire children in faith primary schools have a faith secondary school at such a distance that pupil transport is needed, but Conservative-led Leicestershire county council is introducing an annual £240 transport charge per child in the autumn, which will impose a serious burden on many homes. Does the Minister agree that if there is no consistency of policy across local authorities, we will have in effect a discriminatory, excessive, unacceptable and scandalous Catholic tax on families who ought to have continued free transport, at least until year 11, which is what is available to parents of other faiths and no faith? That will damage access and choice, will it not?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that local authorities should continue to think it right not to disturb well-established arrangements, including free faith-based transport. My authority, in Dorset, appears to be proceeding, without any consultation, with charging for it. We would not advocate that in our guidance. In the Education and Inspections Act 2006, we changed the law to make faith-based transport available, up to 15 miles, to those on low incomes, but local authorities are still locally accountable for decisions beyond that.