Last-minute school bus bills leave parents furious
PARENTS reacted with anger this week after receiving only a week's notice of having no transport or having to pay hundreds of pounds for a bus pass for their children attending schools and colleges.
Dorset county councillor for the Blackmore Vale division Pauline Batstone said she had been contacted by nine parents affected, the majority of whom lived in Stalbridge, from where teenagers travel to Sturminster High School and there is no public transport apart from the school bus.
On making enquiries she learnt that there had been a change in the Dorset Post-16 Transport Policy for September 2013 to August 2014, and it was no longer the case that a child attending their catchment or nearest school, living more than five miles away, and in receipt of qualifying benefits was entitled to free transport to sixth form.
One parent said: "We learnt six days before the first day of term that we would have to pay £450 a year for our daughter to have a concessionary place on the school bus."
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Mrs Batstone said another parent, who was disabled, was being asked to find more than £200, the half-price rate, and that it would be dependent on there being space on the bus.
"Those over 16 no longer have entitlement to free transport on school buses although they are expected to be in school or training until they are 17," she said.
"And parents were told this only at the end of the week with less than a week to go before the start of the school term.
"Public transport is not an option, and for parents working full-time or on shifts and without access to a car during the day, neither is it possible for them to drive their children to and from school."
Mrs Batstone said she had raised the issue with Sturminster High School governors and staff, as well as with local councillors, and enquiries were being made about the possibility of alternative transport by minibus.
"In the longer term I am asking that the council review their policy, and also ask about the criteria for offering concessionary places on transport and how charges are calculated."
She said she had alerted members of the Blackmore Group Transport Forum who have been meeting recently to consider the whole issue of public transport problems in the area and especially the cuts in subsidised bus services.
"We have our next meeting on 20th September, hopefully at the Council Offices in Sturminster Newton or in The Exchange. It is an open meeting to finalise our comments on the public transport and cuts in subsidised buses issue to be sent to the County Council the following week, and any member of the public is welcome to attend and join the discussion," Mrs Batstone said.
She has also contacted DCC education spokeswoman Toni Coombes asking whether the notification to parents under a week before the start of term of the new arrangements was not too late, how children living in remote villages can get to and from school if there are no public bus services, and how parents in receipt of benefit can be expected to meet the cost.
Mrs Coombs said: "Following changes by the Government, young people are now required to continue with some form of education or learning after they turn 16.
"It does not mean staying on at school - they can also choose college, apprenticeships or part-time learning if they are working or volunteering.
"This will have particular implications for rural counties, such as Dorset, where young people generally have further to travel.
"Dorset County Council has a duty to provide free transport for school pupils under 16 who meet certain criteria, but does not provide transport for sixth forms or colleges. If there are any spare seats on a county council school vehicle, parents can apply to buy a spare seat through our concessionary scheme.
"Unfortunately there are fewer concessionary seats available, as the price we ask families to pay does not reflect the true cost of that seat and Government cutbacks have forced us to reduce the size of our vehicles.
"Many schools and colleges provide their own transport for post-16 education. If this is not available, or there are no spare seats, parents can search for alternative transport through Traveline by visiting www.travelines.com or calling 0871 200 2233."
A county council spokesman said: "Parents are invited to apply for concessionary seats on school transport in May. At the beginning of August a letter was sent to confirm safe receipt of the application - clearly stating that this is not confirmation of a seat. We suggest that parents plan for not having a seat and should not assume that one will be allocated.
"They have now received confirmation about whether or not they have a concessionary seat."