Campaigners say disparity in figures points to serious flaws in Suffolk's new school transport policy
The campaign opposing Suffolk’s new school travel policy says data released under the Freedom of Information Act contradicts the county council’s previous statements, and claims it shows the policy is too flawed to be properly implemented.
An FoI request by the Suffolk School Bus Campaign to Suffolk County Council, seen by the Free Press, indicates that the council had 1,218 pending applications for school travel, as of September 6 – after the start of the new academic term.
The number appears to contradict an update given by the council on September 3, when it stated there were 152 spare seat applications and 530 late applications still outstanding, for a total under 700.
Nayland resident Emma Bishton, one of the co-founders of the Suffolk School Bus Campaign, questioned how the council could have two sets of contrary figures from the same time period.
“Any application still outstanding after the start of term is not acceptable,” she told the Free Press. “But how can these numbers both be correct?
“What is concerning is the number is twice as many of the previous number quoted. Does the council even know the correct figure themselves?
“The policy itself, being the way that it is, has affected the implementation, which is why people are still in this mess.”
The Free Press has contacted Suffolk County Council for comment, but has not yet received a response.
The Suffolk School Bus Campaign has called for a meeting with county council leader Matthew Hicks to discuss the policy’s impact on families, and request changes.
Under the policy, which the council says is intended to make school travel in Suffolk financially sustainable over the long term, pupils can only receive free transport to what is deemed their nearest school, while a bus pass to a different school costs £750 a year.
This has drawn criticism for disregarding established feeder relationships between certain schools, and for causing splits in villages like Boxford and Nayland.
Ms Bishton said as parents start to apply for school places for next year, the issue of Year 6 children being denied free travel to their catchment high school, or to the same school that older siblings already attend, will not go away.
Parents in Suffolk have continued to speak out about the stress of scrambling to make alternative travel arrangements for their children, due to the late notice many received that their application for a bus seat had been rejected.
A public meeting was hosted at Glemsford Social Club on Tuesday night by Save Our Buses (SOB), a group of concerned parents seeking a review of the school travel policy.
SOB chairman Julie Stokes, from Glemsford, said the group’s appeal has so far been unsuccessful, but they will continue to fight, combining their efforts with the Suffolk School Bus Campaign.
“We have been left high and dry,” she said. “The situation has not improved at all. But we’re not going to give up.
“Obviously, it’s the impact on the kids that’s the important thing. There has been a lot of discord within families, not to mention the financial impact it’s having.”