PUPILS will be expected to travel to school on public bus services where possible under the latest draft of a council’s home to school transport policy.
Monmouthshire County Council spends almost £7 million a year on bussing children to and from school, but says shifting them onto public transport will help support under-threat routes, with Welsh Government funding for services set to be withdrawn this summer.
Cllr Martyn Groucutt, cabinet member for education, said the council won’t allocate more than 80 per cent of seats to pupils to ensure there is still space for residents to use the buses as a public service.
He said the proposal is in line with the Welsh Government policy of prioritising public transport, as is the proposal that if a walking route is available the offer of school transport will be withdrawn.
Parents will be given notice and transport withdrawn from the start of the following term. Cllr Groucutt said more walking routes will become available as the council improves footpaths and cycle tracks and said: “Parents will be able to make arrangements whether that’s buying their child a bike to get to school and back or a decent pair of shoes to walk to school.”
Talks are currently ongoing between the council and bus operators on the possibility of them carrying more pupils, and the councillor said Stagecoach is keen to work with it, particularly in the Abergavenny area.
The council will continue its policy of providing free transport for primary age pupils who live 1.5 miles from school, and two miles for those of secondary school age, which is more generous than the national policy.
The plan to use public service buses where possible is intended to avoid duplication of services and could potentially increase the number of public transport routes. “It will not only help sustain public service routes but reduce carbon,” said Cllr Groucutt.
Transport to Welsh-medium and faith schools will also still be provided, but the council will require that either at least one parent or the pupil follows the denominational faith of their chosen school.
Cllr Groucutt said the council isn’t proposing “some sort of religious war” and said the council wouldn’t turn down transport to pupils schools had confirmed matched their admissions criteria, but may request “documentary evidence”.
Conservative group leader Richard John highlighted that “lots of” members of non-Christian religions in the county chose faith schools as schools of their own faith “aren’t available to them”. He was concerned the policy “may take away that choice”.
Other changes being consulted on are that pupils with additional learning needs who live too close to a centre to normally be provided with transport will only be funded if they attend specialist provision approved by the local authority. At present it is only provided if the provision is not attached to their local school.
Pupils who have more than one home address will, its proposed, only be provided with transport to their “primary address”, rather than both as as present, and documentary evidence of shared care will be required.
But Cllr Groucutt said that wouldn’t go as far, as some nearby authorities do, of only providing transport if there is a court order in place: “That is a deterrent to families who’ve made arrangements amicably and have not had to go to court to do it.”
He said at present the council is providing seats on buses that are used “once in blue moon.”
The policy will also be updated to allow the council to consider a school in special measures as the “nearest suitable school” in transport assessments. Cllr Groucutt said such schools are subject to intensive support and it is wrong for the council to disregard them.
A consultation on the policy, which has to be reviewed annually, will run until the end of June with the council hoping schools will encourage parents to respond. It will then be considered by the cabinet in September and could be adopted in October as the home to school transport policy for the 2024/25 academic year.