School transport cuts ‘could undermine small schools viability’

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Controversial cutbacks on home-to-school transport in North Yorkshire would further undermine the viability of struggling rural village schools, it has been claimed.

North Yorkshire Council’s children and families scrutiny committee chair Councillor Barbara Brodigan has highlighted the concern ahead of expected formal proposals being tabled by the authority to limit free transport for under-16s to a child’s nearest school.

The Liberal Democrat councillor for Ripon has issued the warning in a notice of motion to a full meeting of the authority on Wednesday (May 16), which could also consider a call by the political group to place a moratorium on school closures until the first North Yorkshire Local Plan development blueprint is adopted.

The motion comes two weeks after a consultation over bringing the council’s home-to-school transport policy into line with the Department for Education’s requirements by removing some areas of discretionary provision.

If implemented, such a change would mean children would only have eligibility for free transport to the nearest school to their home address.

The council has forecast savings of about £2.8m from the change and has underlined at £42m annually the cost of providing home-to-school travel is the third largest item of revenue spending for the council, which is facing having to make.

Earlier this week leaders of the council, which has seen more rural school closures than any other local authority in the country in the last six years, expressed dismay as they pushed forward moves to close a primary school in Ampleforth, with several emphasising the importance of small rural schools.

The motion calls on the council to halt “drastic cuts” to free school bus services and to use £6.2m of emergency funding it received from the Government earlier this year “for its intended purpose of supporting frontline services” rather than bolstering council reserves.

The motion claims restricting eligibility to the nearest schools only would have a significant and disproportionate impact on rural communities.

It adds the cutbacks could trigger changes to the pattern of admissions at schools where transport provision is a factor and a house move within the area could mean children are forced leave their current school.

The motion states: “North Yorkshire will be paying other authorities to educate its own children while perfectly good schools inside the county lose out.”

Coun Brodigan said while the council did not have an official list of schools at risk, it was aware of schools facing declining rolls.

She said: “This obviously is going to affect some schools, particularly schools that are on the border with other counties.

“If small rural primary schools are that important, then you would strive to do whatever you could to keep them open.”

She added: “If schools are closing that means there could be very young children travelling considerable distances to school. If parents don’t want that then they’re going to move, so it’s the death of rural communities.”

The authority’s executive member for education, Councillor Annabel Wilkinson, has been approached for comment.

Leading members of the authority said they believed the motion to be “premature” as there have been no formal proposals over whether to introduce home-to-school transport cuts.

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