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Mounting numbers of children to start school without transport - as late applications soar

PUBLISHED: 19:00 02 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:17 03 September 2019

School transport changes in Suffolk have proved controversial. Picture: R.A FOWLER

School transport changes in Suffolk have proved controversial. Picture: R.A FOWLER

Hundreds of school transport applications remain outstanding less than two days before the new school term starts, as staff have been inundated with late applications.

Gordon Jones said it was the responsibility of parents to get their child to the school of their choice. Picture: SCC/SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHYGordon Jones said it was the responsibility of parents to get their child to the school of their choice. Picture: SCC/SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY

According to Suffolk County Council data, every child eligible for funded school transport that applied on time has had their application completed.

However, as of this afternoon there were 152 applications, which had been submitted on time, for spare seats that had yet to be dealt with.

The council said that was because they could only be allocated after GCSE results had been published.

A further 530 applications were also outstanding, however these are all bids put in after the May 31 deadline - including 185 received between August 27 and 30.

Councillor Jack Abbott. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCouncillor Jack Abbott. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

It is not clear how many of these are entirely new and how many are from parents who have submitted another bid because they haven't heard on a prior application.

According to the spokeswoman, around 2,500 bus passes were posted out today, meaning that many of those who have been successful but were still waiting for a pass to come through should have theirs arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday.

This year marks the first of controversial new school transport changes where families are only eligible for funded transport to their nearest school if it is two miles or more away.

Angry parents who say they have been left in the dark about their applications, experienced errors with their child's pass, or already have siblings at other schools called for three immediate changes that could help the situation - make an exemption for students starting school this year who already had a sibling at another school, solve the issue of split villages and guarantee some certainty around spare seats.

But Conservative education cabinet member Gordon Jones tweeted a response to the suggestions, stating that spare seats could not be allocated for a longer period because of people moving schools, and said that it was parental choice, adding: "It is the responsibility of parents to get their children to the school of their choice".

He said: "I understand this is a frustrating time for families who are waiting to hear the outcome of their spare seat application.

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"Can I please reiterate that every child whose application was received on time and who is entitled to SCC funded school travel has received confirmation of their application outcome.

"We do have a backlog of late applications which the team is currently working through and I would like to thank them all for their hard work and dedication.

"We have not reduced the capacity of available seats for this September so we hope that the spare seat applications can be met.

"I would like to ask parents to help us to make progress by not reapplying if you have already applied for school travel.

"I would also like to remind everyone that it is the parents' responsibility to ensure their child gets to school, if parents haven't received the outcome of their application by the first day of term, they must make their own travel arrangements."

"This is the first year of this new process. Lessons are being learnt all the time and we will be making adjustments and improvements to the process in preparation for future years."

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: "I feel so incredibly sorry for all the families who have had to endure terrible stress and anxiety this summer.

"There will be dozens of children starting the new school term with no school transport, despite applying well before the application deadline and desperately seeking resolution.

"You can barely believe how badly this has been handled. We warned that this policy was fundamentally flawed, but no-one could've have predicted such a shambolic implementation."

Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: "It is beyond belief that still so many parents and children are being left in this situation.

"The new school year is already a stressful time for many children, especially if they are starting at a new and often much bigger school.

"For Cllr Jones to now attempt to put the blame onto the parents and carers is shocking.

"This change was brought in by him and the Tory administration at Suffolk County Council, and it was their responsibility to get it sorted out well in advance of the new school year."

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