Richmondshire District Council has urged a local education authority to reconsider its legal obligations and duties after it emerged parents are being refused school transport or made to pay hundreds of pounds for it because another school is as little as 100 metres closer.
Richmondshire District Council has approved a motion to pressure North Yorkshire County Council over recent developments which prevent young people from rural communities being able to access full educational opportunities.
The meeting heard as the county council’s post-16 transport policy stipulated pupils were only entitled to travel on council subsidised buses to their catchment sixth form or college, or the nearest college to their home address., children from across the district were likely to be affected.
The meeting was told St Francis Xavier’s School in Richmond was less than 100 metres along Darlington Road from Richmond School, but parents of children from places closer to Richmond School who selected to go to St Francis Xavier’s had to pay for their bus passes.
Swaledale and Arkengarthdale councillor Richard Good said children from his ward travelled on the same bus to both schools and the St Francis Xavier pupils got off and boarded the bus at Richmond School and then walked the short distance between the schools.
He said: “Yet the parents of the children at St Francis Xavier’s are being charged £500 a year because it’s not their nearest school. It’s totally ridiculous.”
Councillor Jill McMullon said children in the Hawes area had for many years either attended Queen Elizabeth College in Darlington or Darlington College for technical courses and all those who had applied this year had been given places.
She said parents had recently contacted her “in extreme stress” after being told by the county council they were not eligible to pay £600 for a bus pass to Darlington as Craven College in Skipton was closer to them.
Cllr McMullon said no students from the area had ever gone to Skipton as there were no bus services, the earliest train would be too late for some lessons and if pupils were to travel by car they would have to negotiate Newby Head Pass, “where even in July it can snow”.
She also highlighted how some families had one child who would be allowed to travel on subsidised buses to Darlington and another who would not.
She said: “North Yorkshire County Council needs to rethink its ludicrous policy that is seriously stressing pupils and parents out.”
Councillor Stuart Parsons said the county council had not consulted over the changes and needed to go back to the drawing board: He said: “The county council’s decision is discriminatory and is against government rules on accessing education.”
However, county councillor Yvonne Peacock told members the county council’s policy – that the post-16 policy for sixth form or college must be the nearest one offering a course which is suitable to their career choice, or which is a pre-requisite for entry into higher education – had not changed.
She said parents from the Upper Dales would still be able to get bus passes by applying direct to the colleges, as has happened in previous years.
Cllr McMullon replied that parents had been told by the county council that travel to Darlington “would not be supported” and provided with no details about having to apply directly to the colleges.
She said the county council had pledged that “every child matters, but their current policy does not back up this statement“.
After the meeting, Councillor Patrick Mulligan, the county council’s executive member for education and skills said: “We would like to provide children and young people with transport to the school or college of their choice, but it is simply not affordable given the current pressures on council budgets.
“The post-16 transport policy is updated on an annual basis and this policy brings us in line with most other local authorities in England.”