High number of appeals prompts council to reconsider school transport policy

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Warwickshire County Council's Shire Hall headquarters in Warwick.

Warwickshire County Council could perform a U-turn on controversial changes to its home to school transport policy following a high number of appeals from angry parents.

In 2018 the authority agreed a number of changes to the policy aimed to slashing up to £500,000 from its budget, as many more parents across the county were made to pick up the bill for their child’s transport to school.

The changes included reclassifying some walking routes previously considered unsafe (and therefore qualify for free school transport) as safe and a change to the authority’s definition of ‘nearest qualifying school’.

Previously this definition had meant free transport was offered to the pupil’s priority school (their catchment school) or the school which is physically closest to where the student lived (over a statutory walking distance).

This was changed to mean free transport could only be offered to the school closest to the pupil’s home with a space available.

In some cases this meant parents could not claim free transport to their child’s priority school  because they lived physically closer to an alternative school.

However the council has now agreed to launch a public consultation to revert back to the old definition of ‘nearest qualifying school’, meaning many parents across the county may once again not have to pay.

A council report confirming the consultation, reveals that since the change came into effect in September there are around 90 appeals from parents still underway.

The high level of appeals is proving difficult for the council to manage and has resulted in delays as only one officer oversees school admission and transport appeals.

In the report the council admits that some villages have a divide in terms of their nearest qualifying school and the situation has caused confusion among parents, when they are making school applications.

Gavin Saunders headteacher at Shipston High School, said: “I welcome this decision to have the consultation, I know that transport is a concern for many parents and I think this could provide some fresh clarity for them. In my view this is the right response because I think the current situation is causing some confusion.”

It does not appear that the council is looking to ditch other unpopular changes to the policy, such as the reclassification of safe walking routes or changes to the eligibility criteria for children with special educational needs for free transport.