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Successful appeal against Suffolk County Council's refusal of free school transport could prove beneficial to other families

The mother of a 12-year-old girl has successfully appealed Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) decision to refuse her daughter funded travel to school – an outcome that could have ramifications for families in similar circumstances.

Last September, Emmeline Miller, 12, started her first year at Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill, and her mum Danielle was told by SCC that she would not be entitled to free school transport.

The family live in The Street, Great Wratting, which is 2.98 miles from the school – to be entitled to free transport to her catchment school she has to live more than three miles from it.

Danielle Miller with her daughter Emmeline, 12. Picture by Mecha Morton
Danielle Miller with her daughter Emmeline, 12. Picture by Mecha Morton

While Danielle said she had no problem with the threshold, she objected to the decision on the grounds of safety. Emmeline was expected to walk along the A1061, part of which has no pavement, and then take a footpath across the fields to Haverhill.

Danielle said: “This is an absolute mudbath in the winter and I couldn’t see in my head how anyone would be expected to walk that route in the winter time. They are saying the A1061 and the field and the footpath is a safe route.”

The suggested route was independently assessed on October 11 and considered safe, although the deterioration of the route in winter appeared not to have been factored in to that decision, said Danielle.

She said she also believed the SCC’s risk assessment of the route was ‘flawed’.

On January 13, members of the SCC education transport appeals committee and Mary Evans, the county councillor for Great Wratting, joined Danielle to walk the route and the outcome was telling.

“We left the house at 7.55am and we arrived at the gates of the school at 9.25am, so Emmeline would have missed her first lesson,” said Danielle.

“We got there and everybody was caked in mud. On two points of the walk I was the only one of a party of seven that was actually on the footpath because it was so muddy and waterlogged.

“They chose to walk through a ploughed field because they deemed it to be safer than walking on the actual path.”

After attending a hearing in Ipswich on January 16, Danielle was told she had won her appeal.

It means that Emmeline, like her sister Isabelle, 13, will get free transport to school and her mum will not have to pay £250 per term for the service.

Danielle thanked Cllr Evans for her help, adding: “We’ve got a sensible outcome so I thank the appeals committee for that.

“I thank them for turning up and giving their time and getting here extremely early and making the effort to walk the route on a chilly winter’s day and agreeing with me that it was not safe.

“It’s a success, not just for Emmeline but for any other children that would be impacted.

“There will be other families with younger children who now know that the council will fund travel to their catchment school.”

Andy Hunter, headteacher at Samuel Ward Academy, said: “I am pleased that Suffolk County Council have made the common sense decision that the public right of way over fields between Great Wratting and Samuel Ward Academy is not a safe or viable route for students to walk to school, especially in the dark winter months.

“At best it is muddy and slippery. At worst, it is completely impassable.

“Keeping children safe should be our top priority, so it was very encouraging to hear that free transport to school will be reinstated for those students affected.

“I congratulate the council on their good judgement in this instance and hope they continue to use it to make a similar decision on the unresolved appeal from families in Kedington, where the suggested route is as bad, if not worse.”

n A report into the implementation last year of the county’s new school transport policy has outlined 19 issues the council must hold its hands up to.

Among them was a recognition that the ‘plan was not robust enough’, there was ‘unclear leadership’ and ‘frustration across the system’ as well as a lack of staff to cope with the workload, software and IT issues.

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