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Pupils may lose free bus travel to faith schools; Review by council as costs increase.

Byline: BY LIAM MURPHY Daily Post Staff

PUPILS at faith schools in Cheshire could lose their subsidised school transport under proposals being considered by the county council.

Over the next 12 weeks headteachers, governors, nurseries, MPs and others are to be asked for their views as Cheshire County Council launches a major consultation.

The authority says the issue will mainly affect those children whose parents choose to send them to faith schools rather than the closest mainstream school.

At present they can travel free on county council-funded contract buses but their parents may be required to contribute to this.

The average cost per pupil is currently pounds 670 for those at mainstream schools, pounds 750 for faith schools and pounds 805 for Post 16, although sixth form students must pay part of this cost.

In February 2006 in Cheshire there were 683 children at primary faith schools and 1,826 at secondary faith schools being given transportation to school, at a total cost of pounds 1.9m.

The lead member for children's services, County Cllr David Rowlands, said: "We may have to provide less free discretionary transport and ask parents to contribute towards the costs.

"This could mean increased charges or even withdrawal of subsidised transport completely where the law allows."

The authority says council tax payers have funded free school transport to the nearest appropriate school for many years.

The council has a legal duty to ensure and pay for transport to the nearest suitable school, based on age and need, for every pupil who lives more than two or three miles from the school, depending on whether they are primary or secondary school pupils.

But transport to schools other than the nearest suitable school is usually discretionary and is often provided in other local authorities as assisted transport requiring a parental contribution to the cost.

Cllr Rowland said: "We need to have everyone's views because transport costs are rising and ultimately the money to pay the bills comes from council tax payers.

"At present, we fund all of the school transport to faith schools and the greater part of that to sixth forms and colleges. This is provided at the discretion of the county council.

"We are also obliged to provide transport to the nearest suitable school, based on age and needs.

"And we have now reached the stage when we need to take a long hard look to make sure that our discretionary transport offers value for money for our council tax payers."

In the last financial year school transport cost the county Council nearly pounds 18m, including special schools, and the budget was overspent by more than pounds 360,000.

This was despite increasing the budget by more than pounds 5m in the past five years.

Around pounds 1.9m was spent on transport to faith schools in 2006 and pounds 2.2m on transport for sixth formers and college students.

Beginning on March 1, the consultation exercise will last until May 30. Anyone can take part on line or by post.

More details are available online at wwwcheshire. gov.uk/EducationAndLearning/schooltransport/consultation

liammurphy @ dailypost.co.uk

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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 21, 2007
Words:526
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