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Faith school bus cost hike anger

Phillip Mooney, Cardinal Allen, headteacher

Phillip Mooney, Cardinal Allen, headteacher

A headteacher has slammed a county council decision to slash a school bus fares subsidy for children travelling to faith schools.

County Hall bosses have made changes to its provision for school transport as part of having to slash millions from its budget.

These include a change in the level of subsidy the county council makes towards transport to faith schools, a rise in school bus fares and a reduction in the number of people who qualify for free transport from September.

Phillip Mooney, headteacher at Cardinal Allen Catholic High School, Fleetwood, has said the move “puts further pressure” on faith schools.

He said: “We have strongly opposed the imposition of transport costs previously and we believe this is further evidence of discrimination and contrary to agreements made with the county council when Faith Schools were established.

“The 25 per cent rise in costs from £380 to £495 heavily penalises families.

“Generally these proposals will severely damage the concept of choice, forcing parents into selecting a school which is simply the closest geographically rather than because the school is a good school.”

The county council currently spends £8.5m on providing home to school transport but around half of that is more than what is legally required.

This has been a standard procedure across the country for years, brought in to support parental choice when deciding on the right school for their child.

The biggest proportion of this is spent on transport for pupils at Church of England or Catholic schools which are not their nearest schools.

In 2011 a parental contribution of £380 annually was introduced, this is now set to rise by 25 per cent with a year-on-year rise after that based on the retail price index plus five per cent.

The council, which currently subsidises around 60 per cent of the cost, will continue to foot the rest of the bill.

County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for schools, said: “We are facing government cuts of £300m to our budget and this means we must look at all spending, especially on services we’re not legally required to provide.

“It has been a privilege to do so, but with the savings we are being forced to make we have no choice but to make some very difficult decisions.”

Cardinal Allen bosses said the Melbourne Avenue school’s community had been “vocal” in the consultation, submitting 298 responses of the around 1,000 received by town hall.

Council bosses said the majority of respondents objected to the changes, but there was some support for continuing short-term support for families in dire need, and asking families in rural areas to take their children to the nearest bus stop rather than using council taxi provision.

Mr Mooney said: “In some cases, not necessarily ours, I can foresee that within five years, the ethos that is so much a part of faith schools will have been eroded to the point where some faith schools may decide that they can no longer maintain their identity.”

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