Low income families in East Sussex could be hit by ‘unpopular’ school transport cuts

LEWES. County Hall SUS-150522-151022001
LEWES. County Hall SUS-150522-151022001
  • East Sussex County Council launches consultation on proposed cuts to school transport funding
  • Changes could see free or subsidised travel removed for students from low income families
  • Savings could total £1.1m over three years

Hundreds of students from low income families in East Sussex could be affected by ‘unpopular’ proposals to cut school transport funding.

East Sussex County Council has launched a consultation in a bid to save £1.1m over three years from 2016/17 from the almost £11m it spends annually on getting children to schools and colleges.

We are setting out the proposed changes so people are aware of the proposals, can take these into account when choosing a college or sixth form place for September 2016, and can comment on the potential impact

Stuart Gallimore, ESSC’s director of children’s services

Parents are asked to comment on proposals, which could see the removal of free and subsidised travel available to 16-19-year-old students from low income families.

Although those currently receiving assistance will not have it withdrawn, changes would affect any new intake from September 2016.

While the county council accepted that ‘any changes would be unpopular and regrettably may impact negatively on young people and their families’, it said proposals would save money and bring East Sussex into line with what other local authorities offer.

Currently the county council provides travel assistance to around 470 young people from low income families at a cost of around £240,000 a year.

However 25 per cent of the budget would be retained for a hardship fund, which could be accessed by the ‘most disadvantaged’ young people.

Meanwhile free ‘link transport’, which is provided for a small number of 16-19-year-olds in rural locations to get to their nearest bus stop or railway station, also faces being axed for new starters from September 2016.

Stuart Gallimore, ESSC’s director of children’s services, said: “Historically, the county council has offered school transport services it does not have a statutory duty to provide.

“However, with significant savings to be found in the three years from 2016, this needs to be reviewed. Changes to the policy would bring East Sussex more in line with other authorities where charges are already in place.

“We are setting out the proposed changes so people are aware of the proposals, can take these into account when choosing a college or sixth form place for September 2016, and can comment on the potential impact.

“Any changes approved will not come into effect until September 2016. Students already receiving support will continue to do so.”

Proposals also include increasing the current contribution for post-16 students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) from £370 to £608, with a 50 per cent reduction for low income families, and introducing the same contribution for families with pre-school children receiving travel support.

The county council said proposals would ensure SEND students with the highest level of need were prioritised by introducing tighter criteria, and in some cases encouraging parents to transport their child to school or college.

The decision to consult on the proposed changes was taken by Nick Bennett, ESCC’s lead member for learning and school effectiveness, at his lead member meeting on Monday June 8.

By the county council’s own estimates 204 post-16 students from low incomes families would be affected in 2016/17, while it would also impact 94 pre-school and post-16 SEND students.

The consultation will include discussions with the affected schools and colleges, and closes in September.

To comment visit the county council’s website. For paper copies call 01273 481503.

What do you think of the changes? Could your children be affected? Comment below or email the newsdesk.

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