The growing tide of parents realising that they will have to pay to send their children to school has reached Brentwood. We first highlighted the probable consequences of changes to Essex County Council (ECC) changes in October 2013  but it is understandable that most of those affected would not realise they were until now.
The Brentwood Gazette reported this week on how parents of pupils at West Horndon Primary are the latest to recognise that ECC are expecting them to foot the bill for bus transport to their long standing school of choice.
I must declare an interest in this particular example as I am a member of the governing body of the school that they wish to join, but it is yet another example of the unreasonable turmoil that the strict application of this policy is bringing about. Having attended Brentwood County High School (BCHS) as a student, I can vouch for the quoted parent’s statement that the school has been the default secondary selection for as long as anyone can remember. As such, bus transport from the village is long established.
Now, because ECC deem that a school in neighbouring Basildon (not even the borough parents pay their council tax in) is 100 yards closer, parents are being asked to pay in excess of £500 annually to attend the same school as other family members and neighbours.
It is the intransigence of the application of the policy that is causing so much consternation amongst parents throughout Essex, particularly those in rural areas with similarly long standing catchment schools. Our contacts in Wivenhoe provided another seemingly ludicrous example; denied funding to reach their default choice in favour of a school in “special measures” a matter of yards closer. 
Parents have contacted their elected representatives and have received support from many including high profile MPs. The long standing Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, Bernard Jenkin, has written to ECC calling on them to suspend implementation of the policy for a year to allow for review to address what he believes are very reasonable concerns.
“It would cause some families unacceptable financial hardship, and injustice, because it removes choice from lower income families.”
For information, ECC only deem those on less than £17,000 per annum as “low income” but Mr Jenkin recognises that the description should fit a greater number of families and will significantly affect those on considerably more. A copy of his letter is below:
“You will be aware of the ongoing concern over the Essex County Council’s home to school transport policy, specifically regarding the removal of home to school transport funding for children in Wivenhoe and Elmstead attending the Colne Community School and College in Brightlingsea.
I have brought this issue to the Council’s attention previously, where I raised particular concern over the implications for low-income families whose children would no longer be able to attend the Colne. Despite my efforts, and the efforts of parents and campaigners, this issue remains unresolved.
It would cause some families unacceptable financial hardship, and injustice, because it removes choice from lower income families to send their children to this outstanding school. Concern has also been raised that the service tendered by the Council is poor value for money and significantly more expensive than alternative services. It is also questionable that this policy will save as much money as intended, and the only savings to be made would be at the expense of families who can afford to forgo their child’s free school transport to access the best school for their child.
It is becoming clear that there are many other such cases around the county. I was recently contacted by a school in Chappel expressing similar views over the implications of this policy on low-income families in rural areas. In the light of these ongoing concerns, I am formally asking that the Council suspended this policy for one year and request that a review be carried out with the aim of addressing the injustice of this policy in a more imaginative way.
The county-wide campaign for a more sensible policy has gained serious momentum, largely co-ordinated through a Facebook group; “Essex Against School Transport Cuts” now has 900+ members. Those wishing to join the campaign should start here: