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School transport policy ‘needs updating’

Created on 19/09/2018 @ 10:43
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By Elgan Hearn, Local Democracy Reporter

More work will be done in the spring to update a Home-to-School/College transport policy.

Powys County Council’s cabinet approved the updated policy which followed a consultation this summer.

The consultation had received 318 responses and 15 emails, which Education Cabinet member, Cllr Myfanwy Alexander said she was pleased with.

Responses showed:

·      Charging for post-16 pupils for bus travel generated the most opposition with 86% of people opposing the proposal

·      The qualifying distances of two miles for primary school pupils and three for secondary school was backed by 71%

·      In terms of the Welsh language choice, 67% backed proposals for funding in relation to language choice

·      On faith schools the respondents were split, 50.53% to 49.47% not to provide free transport if it’s not the nearest school

Cllr Alexander explained: “The policy has not been updated for many, many years.

“Because individual issues can be contentious and are appealed against, it was important for us in a corporate sense to have a reliable policy that we can base before we take any actions.”

Cllr Alexander continued: “It was pleasing to see a large number of people respond to the online survey.

“It’s interesting to note that the most controversial part of it does not form part of the paper, which is charging for post 16 transport.

“The largest change relates to the previous blanket policy of transporting of individuals with additional learning needs even if it were not in their best interest.

“If it’s better for them to take a journey on the bus rather than individual tailored taxi service we would be able to provide that.”

Cllr Bryn Davies who chaired a meeting of the Learning, Skills and Economy Scrutiny Committee that looked at the policy, said: “Amongst our comments from scrutiny there was a lack of information to base understanding and decisions on.

“We welcome that more work will take place in the spring on this and look forward to scrutinising that work.

“One of the inconsistencies that has risen is that part of the recommendations opposes the county plan for the Welsh language, by funding transport out of catchment areas to essentially avoid being taught in Welsh.

“This same principle does not pop up in connection with faith schools.

“We don’t want to stifle choice, but it does not make sense for the county to fund transport that opposes the policy.”

He believed this showed a lack of joined up thinking.

Cllr Alexander replied: “The reason why we transport pupils out of Welsh medium school catchment areas to English ones is because it is our legal duty.

“For us to get around this, new legislation would need to be passed in Westminster. We have been punished in the past for a lack of fairness.

“If we transport pupils towards Welsh language education, there are legal judgements which tell us we have to transport towards English medium education.

“I agree with the principle that we want to have more educated through the medium of Welsh. But at the moment the legal framework tells us we have no choice.

“If a child or family tells us they want transport from a Welsh medium area school to an English or dual stream area we have to help their ambition.”

Corporate Governance Cabinet member, Cllr. James Evans, said he was glad that more work would be done for post 16 education transport.

“I’m not yet convinced that charging for post-16 education in Powys is a sustainable model for rural areas."

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