Transport cuts decision ‘harsh on Wharfe Valley schools’

Article in the Ilkley Gazette, 12 May 2014

A decision to scrap free school transport for pupils attending faith schools in the Bradford District could lead to children being denied places at Ilkley Grammar, says the head of a Catholic schools trust.

Chairman of The Bishop Wheeler Catholic Academy Trust, Caroline Hyde, says the effects of the decision by Bradford Council’s Executive will be “particularly harsh” in the Wharfe Valley.

The new school transport policy could come in from October this year.

Mrs Hyde handed a petition over to the Executive at its meeting last month, in a bid to convince councillors to abandon the proposals.

Mrs Hyde warned the change could result in local families being denied places in future at already over-subscribed schools such as Ilkley Grammar School, as parents select their nearest school.

She said: “The effects will be particularly harsh in the Wharfe Valley area, where schools are full to overflowing. If parents are unable to pay the proposed £370 per child per year and opt for their closest school geographically, in this case Ilkley Grammar School, other local children will be denied places.

“The council will then have to fund transport to bus these children out of the area.”

The Bishop Wheeler Catholic Academy Trust is a group of Catholic schools within the Wharfe Valley that includes those serving the areas of Addingham, Burley-in-Wharfedale and Ilkley.

Local schools affected by the ruling are St Mary’s, Menston, and Sacred Heart Primary, Ilkley.

Mrs Hyde added: “I am bitterly disappointed that, while accepting the lack of clarity around the savings and agreeing that what is really required in order to achieve best value is a reassessment of the provision of all school transport, the Executive voted unanimously to implement the proposals for all new pupils from October 2014.

“Bradford has a proud tradition of supporting diversity and Catholic schools have been proud partners in the provision of education. Adopting a policy which will only provide savings by requiring a particular group or community to pay for it is unfair and unjust.”

She said a report to the Executive as ‘misleading’ and failed to identify the consequences of the proposal.

Bradford Council’s Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee called in the decision and referred the decision to scrap free school transport for children attending faith schools in the Bradford district back to the council’s Executive committee for another look.