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Suffolk school lashes out at Suffolk County Council for controversial school transport policy ahead of consultation closing today

PUBLISHED: 08:23 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:54 28 February 2018

East Bergholt High School's headteacher Colin Turner has warned the council that plans to cut free school transport will do more harm than good. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

East Bergholt High School's headteacher Colin Turner has warned the council that plans to cut free school transport will do more harm than good. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

A school in Suffolk has spoken out against a controversial council policy that could see 240 of its students lose their entitlement to free school transport.

The news comes as the consultation into the policy is due to close today, having gathered 3,500 responses over the course of three months.

In a survey conducted last week, the staff at East Bergholt High School (EBHS) found that 70% of its parents would be forced to bring their child to school by car if Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) new school transport policy were to be introduced.

They even discovered that some children would have no choice but to switch schools should the change be implemented.

The proposed policy would target free transport offered to children who travel to a school that is not the nearest to their homes.

If the policy is approved by the cabinet in June, SCC could cut £3m from the £21m budget for home-to-school transport.

The proposal has faced significant backlash from teachers and families across the county, with a number of schools taking part in a demonstration earlier this month, at which parents vowed to show the authority how the plans will cause traffic congestion by taking their children to school by car.

A petition to drop the consultation into the cuts has also been signed by over 8,000 people since it was launched by a concerned parent in January.

Colin Turner, headteacher at EBHS, said: “From our survey, it is clear, that if implemented, the Council’s proposed transport policy would cause a significant increase in the amount of traffic entering the village every day.

“More worrying is the number of children who will be forced to change schools because their parents can neither afford the cost of school transport nor have easy access to a car. I am very concerned about amount of stress and worry these proposals are causing to a large number of families.

“I appreciate the Council is having to make financial savings in all areas of its work, but the consultation documentation seems to be lacking in financial modelling, and there are many considerations which will impact upon the amount of savings they could make, which appear to have been omitted from the consultation.

“For example, they do not seem to have taken into account the transport they will undoubtedly need to provide for children if the route to their nearest school is deemed unsafe to walk. Also they have not considered the need to provide transport for children to an alternative school if their nearest school is full.”

Jack Abbott, Labour’s education spokesperson for SCC and prominent critic of the policy, said: “These proposals, championed by Colin Noble and his Tory administration, have proved to be hugely divisive. They have reinforced the idea that politicians are ‘out of touch’ by showing they have no real understanding of the pressures that Suffolk’s schools and families are under.

“Options 1 and 2 could see the displacement of thousands of children, which we know will affect their educational outcomes. The changes will cost families nearly one thousand pounds per child and heap further budgetary pressures on schools, some of which will lose out on millions of pounds.

“This consultation has cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds and will waste hundreds of man hours, resources that are desperately needed elsewhere, undermining the notion that these plans are about saving money.

“I hope that, over the next few months, the council’s review of the consultation responses is transparent and robust and the council will come to a pragmatic, sensible decision.

“As residents of Suffolk, we will be relying on Colin Noble and his cabinet to put party politics and ideology to one side, listen to the thousands of voices who have spoken out against these proposals, restore some faith in our county council, and deliver a solution that puts Suffolk first.”

A county council spokesperson said: “£21m of Suffolk taxpayers’ money is spent each year transporting children to and from school. It’s therefore an issue for everyone to think about, whether or not you have children at school.”

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