Pupils to lose free school bus pass

CHILDREN wanting to attend the only faith secondary school in the area could soon be faced with a massive price hike for transport.

Rotherham Council is consulting on proposals which would see pupils losing their free transport to Saint Bernard’s Catholic High School.

Headteacher David Butler said some pupils would have to pay up to £10 a week to travel to the school.

“I am really, really worried about it,” said Mr Butler, who has sent out a letter to parents addressing his concerns.

“I’m greatly worried that it (the proposals) focuses just on St Bernard’s and impacts on young people and their families.”

“These families are under pressure and to be faced with up to £10 a week to get children across here, and some families may have more than one child, it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

“Not only will parents have to consider if is it the school they want to send their children but also is it a school they can afford to send them to.”

More than 100 children from Maltby attend the school along with over 60 from the Dinnington area.

The council currently provides free bus passes to all students, aged eight to 16, living three miles away from their nearest faith school. Under the proposals this would be removed except for all families on low incomes.

Mr Butler said: “Although students on free school meals would retain this pass, those families who just fail to meet the criteria will be under most pressure from the move,” he said.

“St Bernard’s is constantly oversubscribed. Places that become available will be filled be either students whose parents can afford the fare which is inequitable or who live nearby.”

“This will have impact on other local schools’ admission numbers.”

“I realise that the council is in a difficult position.”

“There is also an issue around safeguarding children if they aren’t getting on the school bus.”

Parent Sue Kelly, from Dinnington, has sent all her seven children to the school, and currently still has two studying there.

“I’ve been lucky that all my seven children have been able to go to the school and never had to consider it (transport costs) an issue,” she said.

“I think it’s tragic. Particularly from a Catholic point of view that you choose a Catholic education for your children at primary level and you expect to be able to do that for secondary school. For families that choice will be taken away from them.”

Rotherham Council is consulting on two proposals until 20th January and is asking people for their views.

They will either discontinue the free bus pass scheme in September 2013 or have a phased removal from September 2013 to September 2017.

The local authority says while the main reason for the proposals is financial, it believes the changes would also bring greater fairness and equity in transport provision.

It says the change has already been introduced in Barnsley and Doncaster and would be phased in so those students who currently receive the pass would not have it removed.

Councillor Gerald Smith, cabinet member for town centres, economic growth and prosperity, said: “Rotherham has for many years provided support to children and young people which is well above the council’s statutory requirements for school transport. As with all services we are looking again at what we can offer and how we can best target our support to those families who need it most.”