The public is being invited to have its say on proposed changes to the Somerset County Council’s Education Travel Policy.
The Council currently spends around £11.5m a year transporting roughly 9,500 pupils to schools across the county. The policy sets out the criteria for when children are eligible for financial assistance for their transport to schools, notably free transport.
The policy is reviewed every two years and the proposals being put forward would see the authority continue to meet all its legal requirements, but end discretionary parts of the policy that it has provided above and beyond – a step that many local authorities have already taken.
The consultation runs from today (16 October) until 15 December. It can be completed online http://www.somerset.gov.uk/smartoffice/ Home or paper copies can be requested by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If they go ahead, the changes would only affect pupils starting school for the first time and those changing schools, for example moving from primary to secondary.
The proposed changes include:
- An end to free transport on grounds of religion of belief, unless the child qualifies under other parts of the policy.
- Free transport only being available from one registered address – rather than providing it from both residences if parents live separately.
- More powers to withdraw free transport for bad behaviour
- Specifying that the new Universal Credit will be acceptable evidence of eligibility on the grounds of low income status.
Councillor Frances Nicholson, Cabinet member for Children and families, said: “School transport is a huge operation and we review the policy regularly to make sure it complies with all the necessary legislation and guidance. We want a policy that is fair and applied consistently across the board.
“At a time of great pressure on finances, we also need to make sure our policies are affordable. We will of course always meet all or statutory requirements and before any decisions are made. We want to hear as many views as possible, whether you use school transport or not”.
If the proposals are taken forward they would take effect from September 2018.
The other changes being consulted include:
- Clarity that if a late application results in a child being placed in a school which is neither their nearest or catchment school, it may take up to half a term before free transport is in place.
- A child will only be eligible for free transport on the grounds of a temporary medical condition if it is to their nearest or designated transport area school.