Kirklees Council is considering axing some free school transport for children who live more than three miles from their school.
But the council has been attacked for giving parents very little time to air their views.
The move has been condemned by headteachers, parents and councillors who say it will adversely impact many families – particularly those on low incomes.
The council says it is proposing to “usually” provide free home-to-school travel arrangements “only where the law says we must.”
That means it would fund free travel arrangements for children of compulsory school age who are permanently residing within the borough and attending what the council defines as their nearest suitable school. Those who have chosen to attend schools further away are most likely to lose their passes.
Categories include children up to eight years old who live more than two miles from their school; children older than eight who live more than three miles from their school; children who have no safe walking route to their school, regardless of the distance; children who are deemed eligible because of their special educational needs, disability or mobility, regardless of distance; and some children in low income families.
The council has been accused a lack of transparency over the plan, which critics say is deliberately low-key, has been rushed through and poorly communicated.
The timing of the consultation exercise left schools scrabbling to inform parents at short notice. A formal letter advising headteachers of drop-in sessions on September 26 was sent out on September 22 - a Friday - giving people less than four days to act.
The letter was posted after other drop-in sessions on September 20 and 21 had been advertised online.
Among those who have attacked the plan is the executive headteacher at Holmfirth High School, Craig Jansen, who said he had “serious concerns” about the potential loss of free bus passes for students living more than three miles from their school.
He said: “Although their proposals maintain the statutory minimum support required, I question whether this is sufficient.
“A family living more than three miles from any school would only be entitled to a free bus pass if they chose the closest school to their home. These changes will have an adverse impact on many families, but will particularly hurt low-income families.”
Mr Jansen added that the council was running the risk of reducing social and economic mobility at a time when they should be enabling improvements.
“Parents should be able to choose the school they feel will best meet their child’s needs and not be forced into choosing a school based on their own financial constraints. I have written to Kirklees’ councillors to express my concerns. I urge all parents across Kirklees to do the same.”
One parent said children living in outlying villages depend on school buses to get to high schools. She explained: “Without the buses they would have the considerable expense of buying bus passes for all their children, and children often wouldn’t have direct travel to school. They would have to catch two or three buses to get to school.
“Kirklees parents need to made aware of this consultation and how it could affect them and their children so they can have their say while the proposed changes are under consultation and not after free bus services are withdrawn.”
The Examiner understands the changes were earmarked for introduction last year but Kirklees Council failed to undertake a formal consultation and so the proposal fell through.
Due to an error headteachers were only informed of the latest potential changes well after the consultation had begun and only four weeks before it ends on October 22.
Nigel Patrick, Conservative councillor for Holme Valley South, said he would oppose any changes that would make it more difficult for children in rural wards to get to school.
He said: “What does ‘nearest suitable school’ mean? That needs to be defined. If kids are not going to get a bus then they have to get a car. That means someone has to drive them to school. The impact of these changes is massive.”
And he lambasted the council for failing to properly inform the people that will be most severely affected.
“They have put a questionnaire online but they haven’t told anybody,” he claimed. “Then they have written to schools and asked them to inform parents.
He said the online form was hard to navigate with key details on criteria tucked away.
“These details are really important but it’s like they are just an add-on or an afterthought. The whole consultation exercise is rubbish. Challenge and scrutiny is not welcome at Kirklees Council. They do not like it and they do not want to be held to account.”
A Kirklees Council spokesperson said: “We are currently asking for people’s views on the way we provide home-to-school transport for some children and young people.
“The consultation has been widely publicised and is open to everyone until October 22, 2017.
“At the moment, free home-to-school transport is provided to many children who are not legally entitled to the service.
“The proposal is to change this policy and bring Kirklees into line with many other districts around the country.
“No decisions have been made and all the views we receive through the consultation will be reported back to councillors.
Anyone can take part by visiting www.kirklees.gov.uk/SchoolTransportSurvey ”
On its website Kirklees Council says it is proposing to usually provide free home-to-school travel arrangements “only where the law says we must.”
It declares: This would mean we fund free travel arrangements for children of compulsory school age, who are permanently residing within the Local Authority of Kirklees, and attending their nearest suitable school as defined by Kirklees Council, as follows:
* Children up to 8 years old who live more than 2 miles from their nearest suitable school
* Children older than 8, who live more than 3 miles from their nearest suitable school
* Children who have no safe walking route to their nearest suitable school, regardless of the distance
* Children who are deemed eligible because of their special educational needs, disability or mobility, regardless of distance
* Some children in low income families
Kirklees Council categorises low income families as follows:
If you get the maximum Working Tax Credit or your children are entitled to free school meals, they will get free school transport if they are:
* Aged 8 to 11 and the school is at least 2 miles away
* Aged 11 to 16 and the school is 2 to 6 miles away - as long as there aren’t 3 or more suitable schools nearer to home
* Aged 11 to 16 and the school is 2 to 15 miles away - if it’s their nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion or belief.
In addition to its consultation on home-to-school transport, Kirklees Council is also seeking people’s views on:
* Short breaks for parents/carers of children with additional needs
* Early Years services for children with SEN or disabilities
* Transport funded by social care
Visit here: https:// www.snapsurveys.com/wh/siam/surveylanding/interviewer.asp or here: www.kirklees.gov.uk/SupportTransportDisability