A decision to scrap free transport to Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill for pupils living in some villages has angered parents who now face hefty annual bills just to get their children to school.
Pupils travelling in from Hundon, Glemsford and Clare will have to pay for school transport following cuts to the school budget for 2017-2018 at a cost of £10 per child per week, equal to £380 per year.
Parents were informed of the change by letter in early July.
The parents of the 83 pupils effected had received a letter in March informing them that there would be no change to transport arrangements for 2017-18 and that they would remain ‘as last year.’ Such a pledge has been in place for a number of years.
The school says it is subsidising the transport costs by 50 per cent, but parents say they made a decision to apply to Samuel Ward on the basis that transport to school would be free, and have now been told that it won’t be - just before the school breaks up for the summer holiday.
Rachel Cannon, Chair of Governors at Hundon Primary School, who has a daughter starting year 11 at Samuel Ward in September, has written to the school on behalf of parents in Hundon.
Along with other parents, she also met with Samuel Ward Academy Trust CEO Tim Coulson last week to discuss their concerns.
Mrs Cannon said it was revealed at the meeting that Samuel Ward Academy had a near £1 million deficit budget at the end of 2016.
At the meeting parents also complained that the cut represented a breach of contract with families who had been promised free transport when applying to the school and asked why such a significant change could not be phased in for new pupils if it could not be avoided altogether.
Mrs Cannon said : “Families in Hundon have applied to Samuel Ward because they have been assured that transport would be free.
“Most parents feel they have no choice now but to accept the offer made to them, but they are worried that this will be at the cost of their children’s education, and the school’s values.
“Opportunities made available by the school to pupils, such as trips abroad, exchanges and visits to the theatre, may no longer be available to them because their parents must instead spend £380 per child per year on bus charges, equivalent to £1900 per child over five years.
“For families with two or more children the challenge of meeting the cost is daunting to say the least.
“Most say that if they had been informed about the charges in time they would have applied to a different school.”
Since 2012, Suffolk County Council has provided free transport for those living more than three miles from school within designated Transport Priority Areas, and for these villages this means free transport to Stour Valley Community School, not Samuel Ward.
Mark Neild, Deputy CEO & Director of Education (secondary) of Samuel Ward Academy Trust, said: “Students, parents, the community it serves and its staff are of core importance to Samuel Ward Academy.
“The Trust has worked closely with leaders and governors of the Academy and has made a number of savings - always with a keen focus on protecting the educational experiences of young people.
“However, the Trust can no longer fully subsidise the cost of transport for parents living outside of Suffolk County Council’s Transport Priority Area.
“As such, we have had to make the very tough decision that from September this subsidy will be at a level of 50% with parents having to pay £1 per journey and, in so doing, bringing it closer to the position of other schools in the area who charge for transportation.
“The Trust has met with concerned parents and from the outset the Academy has supported parents for whom this change represents a financial hardship as well as parents of children with special educational needs or disabilities.”