Bury Council currently provides financial assistance to meet the cost of travel to pupils who live over the statutory walking distance to school (more than 2 miles for children under 8 years and more than 3 miles for children over 8 years) and meets the cost of travel to pupils attending a denominational (faith) school even if a place was available at a closer, non-denominational school.
Councils remain under a general duty to ‘have regard’ to the wish of a parent for their child to be provided with education at a particular establishment on the grounds of the parents’ religion or belief. However, other than the statutory duty towards secondary school pupils who are from low income families, there is no statutory duty to provide free transport to denominational schools for children generally.
The provision of this Home to School Transport has continued for many years, but on 19 December 2012 the Labour-controlled Cabinet of Bury Council decided to remove the discretionary provision of free travel to those pupils attending a denominational (faith) school from 1 September 2013. Free travel would continue to be provided to pupils of low income families, but the vast majority of hard working families who send their children to Roman Catholic, Church of England, Methodist or Jewish Schools will now find that their child’s travel costs will increase significantly.
During 2011/12, 1035 travel passes were issued, of which 82% (846) were for pupils attending faith schools. Council expenditure on home to school transport for children attending faith schools in 2011/12 was £267,336.
Consultation on the proposed policy took place until 9 November 2012. A total of 279 individual responses to the consultation were received. 10% of respondents agreed with the proposal whilst 81% disagreed.
In addition 724 replies were received from parents at a number of denominational schools including St Joseph’s Ramsbottom. A response was also received from the Diocese of Salford which expressed opposition to the proposal in principle and in law.
The key themes emerging from the consultation were that:
It contravenes long-established practices
- It is discrimination on religious grounds to remove free transport
- Assistance with travel costs is enshrined in British Law
- It discriminates on socio-economic grounds
- It is environmentally unsound
The decision by the Labour Council will now be called in for scrutiny by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member. I will update residents on when the meeting is planned, as residents can attend and ask questions. It is hoped that the decision will be sent to the Full Council for review and a democratic vote.