Petition started calling on Essex CC to reverse school transport changes

Updates in italics added on May 4th

Last year we highlighted changes in Essex County Council’s (ECC) school transport policy that meant that they would only pay for transport to your nearest school providing that was more than three miles away from September 2015. As parents have received their offers for places at primary and secondary schools across Essex over the past few months many have discovered this policy change for the first time. Crucially, many were not aware of it when making their choices.

A group in North Essex have written to us to make us aware of a petition that they have started to ask ECC to reverse this decision for a minimum of one year while parents are made properly aware of its consequences. The link to the petition is here and has the support of Educating Brentwood:

https://www.change.org/p/essex-county-council-reverse-the-revised-school-transport-policy

On the day that this post was first published (May 3rd) we were contacted by Ann Hooks who is part of a newly formed group from Rayne, near Braintree, who are also campaigning against these changes. “Rayne Against School Transport Cuts” have set up their own website which also includes a petition. It can be accessed via this link:

www.rastc.org.uk

They also have a Facebook page and Twitter feed (@RayneFightsCuts) and would appreciate your suppport.

In a further development, we have been made aware of a motion that has been put to ECC by Cllr J.Young and seconded by Cllr I Henderson for consideration later this month.

The meeting will take place on Tuesday May 12th at ECC in Chelmsford at 10:00 a.m. and we understand it will be open to the public. The motion reads as follows:

‘Council notes that from September onwards many parents in Essex will face significant travel costs to transport their children to school as a result of changes to home to school transport policy. Council further notes that in some areas, families will have to find up to £700 a year to pay for their child to travel to school as a result of these changes.

Council therefore calls on the home to school transport policy to be reviewed, taking account of:

(a) The cost implications to families.

(b) Whether children have a safe route to school as a result of the changes.

(c) Whether parents have been well informed throughout the process.

(d) Whether this policy change will impact negatively on the council’s desire ‘to get Essex moving’ as more parents will be forced to drive children to school.

Council further calls on the Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning to consider implementing transitional arrangements to reduce the financial impact on families by awarding discretionary payments to support parents for this coming school year.’

To illustrate the situation, our original article follows which we produced in association with our contacts in Wivenhoe.

Written in August 2014:

In the next two months parents throughout Essex will be applying for primary and secondary school places for their children but this time they will have a further factor to consider before making their choices.

As we highlighted in a post from last October, (Essex County Council proposed school transport policy undermines parental choice http://wp.me/p2dr6s-gR ), changes to criteria for entitlement to free school transport for those living at least three miles away from a school have changed and will come into force in September next year.

This means that those applying for places in this coming round may have to find the money to pay for a choice of school.

Responses we have had to our earlier post and to local press coverage show that this is very likely to affect parents in some of the five villages of Brentwood and surrounding areas such as Ongar and West Horndon. But it is also likely to be affecting many parents throughout the County.

Last week, at their invitation, Debbie, Richard and I travelled to meet Wivenhoe residents who are directly impacted by this change. Despite a vocal local campaign, including a petition, representation at an Essex County Council (ECC) scrutiny committee and a meeting with the ECC cabinet member for Education, they have so far been unable to gain any concessions to this hard line policy that will have a huge impact on their town.

Wivenhoe petitionWhen Educating Brentwood raised this last year, our central concern was the implications that this policy change would have for parental choice. Wivenhoe residents merely wish to retain the ability to send their children to the school that has given priority admission to all of their primary schools for as long as anyone can remember.

They believe that withdrawal of long established paid transport for their children will cause damage to their community and their campaign has therefore had the cross-party support of local town, borough and County councillors alike.

When we met, we agreed with current Wivenhoe mayor Kevin Read, town councillor Andrea Luxford-Vaughan and Colchester borough councillor for Wivenhoe, Mark Cory, that this policy change would be affecting parents throughout Essex. However, because situations in other parts of the county may be different, it allows ECC to paint issues raised as being “exceptions to the rule”.

We therefore decided to write this joint post, using Wivenhoe’s case as illustration, and ask other Essex residents to contact us if they have similar concerns. If both North and South Essex will be affected it seems likely that points in between will be too. If so, ECC need to be properly appraised of this and asked to amend their policy accordingly.

If you are likely to experience similar issues to those raised in Wivenhoe’s case please leave a comment on this post, on our Facebook page, on Twitter at @AskBrentwood or by email to educatingbrentwood@hotmail.co.uk

School transport change case study: Wivenhoe

BBC Look East covered the situation as it applies to Wivenhoe in February in this short film:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-26035644

County Cllr Ray Gooding is ECC cabinet member for Education and Lifelong Learning and outlined the change in policy in a letter to Wivenhoe Town Council (WTC) earlier this year:

Essex CC“The County Council has adopted a new home to school transport policy that applies, without exception, across all areas of the county. This means that from September 2015 new pupils will receive free home to school transport if they attend the nearest secondary school to their home address, and this school is more than 3 miles away from the home. Catchment areas will no longer be a relevant factor when assessing whether a child is entitled to free home to school transport.

This will mean that, in some areas where pupils have traditionally received free transport on the basis of attending their ‘catchment school’ despite it not being the nearest, free transport will no longer be provided to new applicants from 1 September 2015 onwards. The exception to this is where a child qualifies by virtue of parental low income and it is one of the 3 nearest qualifying secondary schools between 2 and 6 miles from the home.”

A WTC press release clarified the position for local residents following this:

“Under the present system, pupils receive free transport to their catchment school. Under the proposed system, assisted transport will only become available to the nearest school.

“The impact of this decision will largely be felt in Wivenhoe by students who attend The Colne Community School at Brightlingsea. The Colne is approximately 7 miles from Wivenhoe whereas the Sir Charles Lucas Academy (Colchester) is less than 4 miles. Parents in Wivenhoe will now have to choose between paying for school transport to Brightlingsea or accepting the offer of free transport to Greenstead.

“This decision will remove the natural choice of school for many parents that fall into the low income, but not on benefit section, and make a significant impact on those that will just have to find a way to finance it. In the end it will create unnecessary divisions between children from the same community.Wivenhoe emblem

“This policy is completely ill considered in situations like ours. It’s financially unsound – environmentally irresponsible and discriminates against all families that do not have a choice to walk to school.”

The dubious financial basis of this policy change should be underlined, Wivenhoe Town Councillor and former mayor Andrea Luxford-Vaughan explains:

“One of our main points is that the cost for the bus would be the same going to either school and so no saving will be made by enacting the policy.

“Wivenhoe is a strong diverse community, that has had a long standing relationship with its catchment school and neighbouring villages. Our children should be supported as they move into secondary education, and not physically divided by their parents ability to pay for transport. And we are not the only community under threat. A happy child is easier to teach and will achieve more.”

At the time of the Look East piece, and in preparation for the representation at the ECC scrutiny committee, a petition was started. A selection of quotes from that petition are presented below and illustrate that, in attempting to make a financial saving, ECC have failed to adequately consider the significant cost to parents and the wider community.

“As a mother of a child with special needs, I have specifically chosen the Colne as the best school for my son, not least of all because his transition from junior to secondary will be made easier if he is surrounded by familiar faces! The proposed changes may mean that a lot of those faces will not be there to reassure him, including his sister’s in a couple of years as two bus fares will be too much for me.”

“My partner and I are planning to move in together soon, but these changes mean that I will not be able to afford to send my younger children to the Colne, where my eldest two sons already attend. I’m better off staying as a single parent on full tax credits.”

“As somebody who’s work is concerned with young people’s well-being, in particular related to the ‘Healthy Schools’ programme, I would be appalled at any initiative which reduces choices.”

“I have 3 children starting at the Colne. There is no way I can afford this extra expense.”

“The traffic issues will be a NIGHTMARE. Like us, most parents will end up driving their children to and from school, which will mean more pollution and more accidents.”

If you are likely to experience similar issues to those raised in Wivenhoe’s case please leave a comment on this post, on our Facebook page, on Twitter at @AskBrentwood or by email to educatingbrentwood@hotmail.co.uk

Stephen Mayo

Wivenhoe material supplied by Cllr Andrea Luxford-Vaughan

Presented in agreement with Cllr Kevin Read & Cllr Mark Cory and Debbie Foster & Richard Millwood

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