WEST Berkshire Council’s method for determining which pupils are entitled to free home-to-school transport has this week been branded “unfair”.
As the new school term gets under way, some families are now being forced to pay hundreds of pounds to get their children to class, following the council’s decision to implement changes to the service.
At the start of this term, the council’s proposals came into effect, which has resulted in the cost of a bus pass for some parents increasing from £250 to more than £700.
The free service is still available to some pupils, depending on their parents’ income and the distance to their closest school.
One parent, Phil Gray from Woolhampton, told the Newbury Weekly News he has had to pay £500 for his son’s bus pass as he moves into Year 7 at Theale Green School.
The disgruntled father said, because the school is more than three miles away and is also the catchment school, he mistakenly believed his son would be entitled to free home to school transport.
“My application was rejected on the basis that the closest school is The Hurst School in Hampshire,” explained Mr Gray.
“The Hurst is the closest school to me if you have a helicopter or if you are brave enough to walk along the back roads in the dark and wet, because that’s the only way to get there if you don’t have a car or if you work.”
“You could go via public transport, but this involves two buses and crossing the A4 at a point where there are no crossing points.
“The journey is approximately 12 miles and takes about an hour-and-a-quarter either way.”
Had he attended The Hurst, Mr Gray’s son would be entitled to free transport as there is no safe walking route, but he said the taxi service would preclude his son from attending any after-school activities.
He added: “Am I going to send my child to a school that we don’t know, which is miles away from his friends, with no public transport links and precludes any after-school activities?
“Of course I’m not.
“West Berks are cynically manipulating the rules to avoid any responsibility as they know I’m not going to send my son there, and yet that’s the only option available – no negotiation, no common sense and no respect for taxpayers’ money, as they are prepared to pay for a taxi, which costs a lot more than the fare to Theale.”
West Berkshire Council spokes-woman Peta Stoddart-Crompton said the council had “a clear home-to-school transport policy which is applied evenly and fairly across all applications”.
Earlier this year, two petitions gained hundreds of signatures urging the council to rethink the changes.
Responding at the time, the council said the changes would only affect children who go to their catchment school, but who live geographically closer to another school and were necessary as the council was no longer able to subsidise the service for these pupils.