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Home-to-school Transport to the Colne Community School (Essex)

Volume 586: debated on Monday 13 October 2014

The Petition of residents of Harwich and North Essex,

Declares that Essex County Council’s new home-to-school transport policy has removed school transport funding for residents of Wivenhoe with children attending the Colne Community School in Brightlingsea; further that the Petitioners believe that the policy does not recognise the long-term close community link between Wivenhoe and the Colne Community School; further that the cost of running an underutilised service to the allocated catchment school would better be spent on transport to the Colne Community School; and further that the journey time to the Colne Community School is likely to be the same as, or shorter than, to the allocated catchment school.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage the Essex County Council to continue to provide residents of Wivenhoe with equitably funded home-to-school transport to the Colne Community School in Brightlingsea.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Bernard Jenkin, Official Report, 22 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 1355.]

[P001378]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Education, received 3 October 2014:

Local authorities (LAs) 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 distance.

LAs must also make arrangements for those children who are unable to walk to school because of their special educational needs (SEN), disability or mobility problems. These arrangements also apply to children who cannot reasonably be expected to walk because the nature of the route is unsuitable to walk in reasonable safety.

Entitlement to free school travel is extended for pupils from low-income families, i.e. those that a) are entitled to free school meals, or b) their parents are in receipt of maximum Working Tax Credit. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 seeks to improve home-to-school travel and transport arrangements and therefore secure fair access to schools, especially for children from low-income groups, where a lack of affordable transport can act as a barrier to choice.

Outside the statutory duties, LAs have a discretionary power to provide free or assisted transport if they believe it is necessary and local funding is available. Essex County Council (ECC) has previously gone beyond the statutory requirements and exercised their discretion to link transport entitlement to school catchment areas, including from Wivenhoe to Colne Community School, though there is no requirement in law to do this.

ECC carried out a public consultation on home-to-school transport which ran from 16 September 2013 to 25 October 2013. Following the consultation, a decision was made to cut the discretionary transport currently in place for children of Wivenhoe to Colne Community School in Brightlingsea. The school has historically been deemed a catchment school for pupils living in Wivenhoe. However, it is not the nearest school; this is Colchester Academy. Good practice would suggest that the introduction of any changes should be phased in so that children who start school under one set of transport arrangements continue to benefit from them. ECC are following this practice and introducing their revised policy for all new starters from September 2015. However, they will continue to provide discretionary transport from Wivenhoe to the Colne Community School for those pupils who currently receive it.

Funding and decisions on discretionary home-to-school transport are a matter for LAs and not something in which Ministers can usually intervene. We have no grounds to believe that the Minister can intervene in this case.