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Education Politics Rhondda Cynon Taf South Wales

Decision on home to school transport changes ‘called in’

The start of the Rhondda Valley (Pic: Anthony Lewis)

THE DECISION on changes to secondary school and college transport in Rhondda Cynon Taf have been “called in” in a bid for decision makers to reconsider.

A special overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, March 27 will consider the call-in on the decision made by cabinet on Wednesday, March 20 to bring free school transport eligibility distances for secondary schools and colleges in line with statutory guidance by increasing them from two to three miles.

But cabinet opted to keep the current criteria for primary schools despite the original proposal being to change the eligibility distance from 1.5 miles to two miles from school.

The decision to keep the primary school criteria would see 305 primary school pupils keep their free school transport entitlement who would have lost it other under the preferred option that was consulted upon. This includes 242 Welsh language primary pupils and 63 faith primary pupils but it would reduce the potential savings by £200,000 a year.

The call-in has been signed by Councillor Karen Morgan, Plaid Cymru; Councillor Paul Binning, independent and Councillor Karl Johnson, Conservative, and says that there is a need to further consider the negative impact of the decision for pupils, parents/carers and the communities of Rhondda Cynon Taf.

It also says that the decision to proceed did not fully consider the negative impact in relation to legal implications, equality impact assessment and Welsh language assessment.

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Another reason given for the call-in is to further scrutinise if the cabinet decisions being called in are legally compliant and in accord with duties under the Future Generation Wales Act 2015, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the Equalities Act and Welsh Language Act.

And the fourth reason is to further scrutinise the practicalities in delivering the delegated authority to the director of highways, streetcare and transportation services as agreed.

Some of the concerns raised about the proposals by councillors at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, March 20 included the financial impact on families, children walking long and unsafe distances to school especially in bad weather, the availability and cost of public transport, the impact on traffic and the environment with more cars on the road and the potential barriers to parents wanting to send their children to Welsh medium schools.

If the proposal to refer the matter back for reconsideration is passed by committee then the matter will be referred back to the cabinet but if proposal is lost then the decision will take effect from the end of this meeting and would be implemented from the start of the 2025/2025 academic year.

The decision taken by cabinet also included continuing to allow a learner to select their nearest suitable school in accordance with choice of English or Welsh medium language or preferred religious denomination, to continue to provide discretionary pre-compulsory school age transport in line with current discretionary distance criteria and to provide discretionary post-16 transport in line with the relevant statutory distance criteria.

It also included continuing to provide discretionary Additional Learning Needs transport.

The feedback from the public consultation showed that 79% of those who responded disagreed with the original proposal to change the criteria for primary, secondary and colleges.

The reasons given in the cabinet report for considering the proposals were that the council is facing an £85.4m budget gap over the next three years and that home to school transport costs have increased from £8m in 2015 to over £15m for the 2023/24 financial year and the council said operates a “very generous” home to school transport service which is the largest of its kind in Wales.