School transport report must be just the start of improvements, say parent campaigners
PUBLISHED: 12:51 05 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:51 05 February 2020
Parents affected by school transport changes have said that the council’s report must only be the start of work to improve the situation in Suffolk.
Suffolk County Council on Tuesday published its report into how the new school transport policy was implemented in September last year, finding 19 failings in the launch.
READ MORE: School transport appeals increase sixfold
Parents who experienced issues over split villages, siblings being sent to different schools and errors obtaining correct passes or spare seats have welcomed the report's findings, but said it must only be the start of improvement work.
Tristan Wood from Edwardstone was told his 11-year-old daughter Matilda would only qualify for free travel to Ormiston Sudbury Academy despite her older brother Jamie attending Thomas Gainsborough School.
They successfully appealed the decision.
Mr Wood said: "I am grateful Mark Hardingham [chief fire officer who chaired the review] has listened - I welcome the fact that he has realised there were failings of the leadership, and I think that's a big part of this.
"We are the ones that have had to put up with what the council put in place and if they don't want this to happen again they have to look at these changes."
Fiona Macaulay, a Thurston parent who was also affected by the changes gave evidence to the review panel, and said: "The policy has led to a lot of these failings such as split siblings and split villages, and I am glad the report has a nod to that, but it's now about whether [cabinet member for education] Mary Evans does take some robust action in addressing these issues."
Mrs Macaulay said that the three changes called for by the parent campaigners - an end to split villages, a sibling exemption and guaranteed spare seats - did not alter the policy fundamentally, and would not lead to increased costs, calling for a fresh look at those proposals.
She added: "The council don't want to be seen to back down but shouldn't it be about creating the right policy and right implementation for the needs of everybody?"
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In his report, Mr Hardingham said that review was not about changes to the policy itself, only in how it was implemented, but acknowledged: "Many said it was impossible to completely divorce the policy changes from their experience of the implementation, and this was accepted as the review progressed".
He said the review was a starting point for improvements, and added: "There is an awful lot of work already underway, and we want to use the findings to add new pieces of work or make tweaks."
The policy introduced in September only provided funded travel to youngsters to their nearest school, and only if it was two miles or further away from their homes.
The report will be discussed by the council's scrutiny committee next week where the next steps will be outlined.
Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent reaction
Councillor Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group at Suffolk County Council, said: "When the Conservatives first suggested this policy, we warned them of these problems.
"We told them that there would be a huge rise in the number of applications and appeals, and that they needed to make sure there were enough staff in place to cope.
"We warned them of the problems that would arise from the illogical decision to split siblings and villages between different schools.
"These problems aren't just due to the implementation - the policy itself is inherently flawed. It was completely irresponsible of the Conservatives to push forward without first resolving any of these issues.
"Given these numerous failings, I would seriously question whether the policy will actually achieve any of the savings it was meant to.
"Although it's good these issues have now been acknowledged, it is shameful that such a poorly thought-through policy was ever agreed in the first place.
"I think it's about the time the Conservatives finally reconsidered the whole policy."