New hope for Samuel Ward Academy pupils’ in free school transport wrangle

Boyton End, Suffolk. Mia Huckstep, 13 is one of 84 kids who now have to pay for their transport to Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill after the school suddenly ended the agreement to provide it for free. Pictured are Leela and Mia Huckstep.

Picture: MARK BULLIMORE
Boyton End, Suffolk. Mia Huckstep, 13 is one of 84 kids who now have to pay for their transport to Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill after the school suddenly ended the agreement to provide it for free. Pictured are Leela and Mia Huckstep. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Parents faced with having to pay for the first time for their children to travel to Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill could have a new lifeline.

Suffolk County Council is planning to consult parents on a ‘fairer’ school transport policy which would see 3,700 pupils losing their right to free transport.

The aim is to cut costs on a budget that, at £21.5 million last year, was £3 million over budget.

Legally, counties must provide transport to the ‘nearest suitable school’ if the distance is more than two miles for under eights or three miles for eight to 16 but Suffolk provides it to pupils living in the ‘transport priority area’ (TPA) of free schools giving some a choice of places.

The 3,700 (3.5 per cent) on the TPA option to a school not the nearest would lose the right though 2,400 could have transport to their nearest if they moved schools.

But Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said in cases where the nearest school is full, as has happened with some Samuel Ward Academy pupils living nearer Stour Valley School, they should qualify for transport to the next nearest.

The Echo has featured the situation facing 13-year-old Mia Huckstep, who attends Samuel Ward Academy but has been told by SCC that she doesn’t qualify for free school transport because her family home in Boyton End is considered to be closer to Stour Valley.

The Clare-based school is however, full, so Mia would not be able to transfer to it even if she wished to.

Mia is one of more than 80 Samuel Ward Academy pupils who used to receive free transport to the school, only to be told in July that they would have to start paying for it at a cost of £10 per pupil per week.

Mia’s parents Leela and Christian have launched a challenge to an SCC decision to reject their application for free transport and are awaiting a ruling.

Suffolk County Council says 88 per cent of students, 93,000, make their own travel arrangements, 5.8 per cent, 6,100, will be unaffected by changes because they go to the nearest school, as are the 1,700 special needs pupils.

Cllr Jones said: “There are anomalies with TPAs which were instituted with the first free school to give parents the chance to choose those schools.”

He said those schools were now well established enough to no longer need that support, though the council will be consulting them on travel plans.

Other changes include opening school bus services to fare paying passengers and using rights of way when calculating the shortest walking routes, as several other counties do. If the consultation is approved by cabinet on Tuesday, it will start on October 2.