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School Transport (Hertfordshire)

Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

The Petition of residents of Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, and others,

Declares that residents of the village are deeply unsatisfied with the current allocation of free school transport from the village of Little Gaddesden to Tring School; further declares that the treatment of children living in the Little Gaddesden pupil catchment area for Tring school is unfair and divisive.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to rectify the situation and provide free school transport for all pupils regardless of the location of their home within the village

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mike Penning, Official Report, 25 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 1035.]

[P000383]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, received 22 July 2009:

Local authorities have to make transport arrangements where they consider it necessary to secure an “eligible” child’s attendance at school. Where they consider transport necessary, it must be free of charge. Schedule 35B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 defines “eligible children”—those categories of children in an authority’s area for whom travel arrangements will always be required. Local authorities have wide discretion in deciding whether transport is necessary, but they must provide free home to school transport for pupils of compulsory school age who are attending their nearest suitable school, provided that the school is beyond the statutory walking distances. These are two miles for pupils below the age of eight and three miles for those aged eight and over.

The Government are committed to increasing choice for all parents and securing fair access to schools—especially for children from low income groups, where lack of affordable transport can act as a barrier to choice. This is why we extended entitlement to free school travel for pupils entitled to free school meals or whose parents are in receipt of maximum Working Tax Credit.

This has meant that since September 2007, primary school pupils aged over eight have been entitled to free travel to their nearest school where this is more than two miles from their home. At secondary age, since September 2008 pupils attending a suitable school that is between two and six miles from the child’s home, (as long as there are not more than three nearer schools) and those attending their nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion or belief between two and 15 miles, have been entitled to free school transport.

Hertfordshire County Council has advised that the availability of schools in the Little Gaddesden area and the unusual extensive lay out of the village means that the nearest school to a child’s home will be different, depending on the location of the home within the village. The layout of the village has resulted in some children from Little Gaddesden not qualifying for free travel as their parents have chosen to have their child educated at a school that is not their nearest school.

With the exception of children from low income families, the courts have held that local authorities do not have a duty to provide free school transport for children whose parents have chosen to send them to a school other than the nearest suitable one; even if it is beyond statutory walking distance

On securing a place at a school, admission authorities must explain clearly whether or not school transport will be available and, if so, to which schools and at what cost (if any). Information about school travel and transport options available to parents must be set out in the authority’s composite prospectus.

It is the Government’s belief that Hertfordshire County Council, acting through the Local Authority, is fulfilling the school travel and transport duties in providing free home to school transport to “eligible” children from Little Gaddesden to Tring School.