Blackpool Council bids to cancel free bus to ‘best’ school

Former headteacher Stephen Tierney has criticised plans to remove free school buses
Former headteacher Stephen Tierney has criticised plans to remove free school buses
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Bosses at Blackpool’s top school today warned cost-cutting measures to axe school buses will damage children’s education.

Blackpool Council wants to withdraw four buses which serve St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Layton – which is the town’s only Ofsted rated ‘good’ secondary school.

Former headteacher Stephen Tierney has criticised plans to remove free school buses

Former headteacher Stephen Tierney has criticised plans to remove free school buses

Currently nearly 250 pupils use the school buses each day. Axing them would leave many children having to find alternative ways of travelling to classes.

The council says cutbacks mean it can no longer afford to fund the service, and axing the buses would save £75,000 a year.

At the moment where a pupil attends a faith school, the council provides free home to school travel if they live more than three miles from school.

Free travel would continue for children whose families are on low incomes, but youngsters would have to use scheduled services instead of having dedicated school buses.

Getting a child safely to one of the best schools in Blackpool is important

The council is consulting with the school and parents over proposals to withdraw the buses which are also used by pupils whose parents pay for their fares.

But Stephen Tierney, former head teacher of St Mary’s and now chief executive of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust which St Mary’s is part of, warned: “It seems a retrograde step to remove these transport links.

“Getting a child safely to one of the best schools in Blackpool is important.”

Schools chiefs are urging parents to back the campaign to save the buses and have written to councillors calling on them keep the service.

Mr Tierney added; “Over the past few years St Mary’s has been significantly over-subscribed and the number of pupils has increased.

“We estimate that over 300 pupils travel on the school buses most days. A further concern is the removal of our buses will limit children’s access and opportunities to attend Blackpool’s only Ofsted rated ‘good’ secondary school.

“We accept the council has to make savings, and we are happy to discuss perhaps losing one of the buses.

“But there is a concern the consultation is no more than window dressing and they have already made their minds up. It feels like a sham consultation.”

The school attracts pupils from all over the town whose parents want them to attend Blackpool’s only Catholic secondary school.

While some pupils are eligible for free travel, many parents pay bus fares which the school says brings in £60,000 a year to support the service.

Those who qualify for free travel would be given bus passes entitling them to travel on scheduled services if the changes are brought in from September.

John Blackledge, director of community and environmental services at Blackpool Council, said: “If this proposal was implemented it would mean that only secondary school pupils who receive free school meals or where parents are on income support would receive free school transport, in the form of bus passes.

“This would mean just 49 pupils who would not receive the benefit and would have to make their own way to school by paying for a bus, getting a lift or walking – as most pupils in Blackpool have to.

“At this stage the council is only consulting on these proposals and people can give their views by completing the survey available online at www.blackpool.gov.uk/consultations before May 21.

“A final decision will be made before the end of the school year.”

But many parents are concerned about the proposals.

Alex Shade, whose daughter attends St Mary’s, said: “If the services are cancelled I will have to scramble for any options I see fit which is not an easy task.

“My daugher has pride in her education and I do not understand why she must now have more troubles about how she gets to school.

“St Mary’s Catholic Academy is known to be one of the best schools in Blackpool and one of the top runners for great local sixth forms.

“The fact that they offer bus services just shows how good a school St.Marys is.”