Monday, 15 August 2022

Head opposes cuts in pupils’ cheaper travel

THE viability of Icknield Community College could be affected by plans to cut back on subsidised travel for pupils, says

THE viability of Icknield Community College could be affected by plans to cut back on subsidised travel for pupils, says the headteacher.

Oxfordshire County Council is considering limiting free travel to the children’s nearest school in order to save money.

Mat Hunter says this would mean that children from nearby areas who have traditionally studied at the Watlington school may not be able to continue doing so.

These include RAF Benson and Stadhampton, which are slightly closer to Wallingford School and Oxford Academy respectively.

Mr Hunter said: “The majority of students from RAF Benson come to Icknield and we have a long working relationship to the base. Although they are closer to Wallingford, that school is full.

“Stadhampton is fractionally closer to Oxford Academy but I can’t see any great benefit for the county council in terms of saving money because the difference in distance is marginal and going into Oxford is probably more complex, particularly if siblings are divided.”

Mr Hunter, who joined Icknield two years ago, said the school needed pupils from the surrounding area in order to keep going.

He said: “We are a small school so potentially it could hugely impact on us but the devil is in the detail and it will be crucial in determining the impact it will have. We certainly wouldn’t want a falling roll.”

Mr Hunter also claimed that the council would be limiting parents’ choice of school.

“You should be able to choose what kind of school that you want your child to go to, certainly where there is not a huge amount of difference in travel time,” he said.

“Parents might have moved to a particular area to get their children into a particular school and I don’t think that the goalposts should be moved at this stage.”

He urged parents to attend a public meeting at the school on December 2 at 7pm to discuss the proposals.

The changes could apply to either all children starting school in September 2015 and then be extended to all children after two years or be phased in more gradually to ensure all children currently in receipt of free transport continue to receive it until they leave primary or secondary school.

The council is also considering increasing concessionary fares for pupils and post-16 students who are not entitled to free travel on school buses.

It says the the changes would save between £1 million and £2 million a year and that its current provision is more generous than the national statutory level.

Benson parish councillor Dave Rushton, who led a campaign to give village children free transport to Wallingford School last year, said poorer parents would be hit hardest.

“The alternatives all seem to remove any choice in schools from parents and the proposed timings and increases will hit a lot of families hard. Well-off parents will still be able to transport their children to the school of their choice but working parents who rely on the school bus will be penalised.”

Mark Gray, county councillor for Benson and Cholsey, said he believed financial help would be available for children from poorer families.

The consultation is open until December 20.

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