Free School Transport: Everybody wants "choice" but nobody wants to pick up the bill

IMG 0213Saxmundham Middle School which is where the Saxmundham Free School will be based if and when it opens was the site of the second Suffolk County Council home to school transport meeting yesterday.

The meeting was much like the one the previous night in Leiston but this time the Portfolio Holder for education, Graham Newman attended. He sat in the audience and when asked to respond told the meeting that he did not feel able to respond as he is the “decision maker” in this case.

I am not sure Graham Newman is quite right about this but that said it is preferable to the pre-empting of consultations that we have seen before most notably Cllr Judy Terry’s behaviour during the library consultation.

Still Cllr Newman turned up and he said he had listened and I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt for now.

And whilst nobody from Seckford was present John Fisher who is a Saxmundham Town councillor and one of the original free school proposers told the meeting that the Seckford Foundation would also like to see a single transport priority area giving choice to all parents to send their children to Leiston or Saxmundham.

That said Seckford have said nothing in public about this and I get the impression it isn’t really a big issue for them. That’s strange as the whole original justification for the free school was that currently parents had no choice but to send their children to Lesiton. Now they will have no choice but to send them to the free school….so one lack of choice is replaced with another lack of choice.

It was evident thought that everyone wanted their to be a single transport priority area. The only problem is nobody wants to pay for it. But unless someone does the entire stated intention of the free schools - choice - is completely undermined.

On one level I have some sympathy for the County Council. They didn’t ask for the free schools and might well think the DfE should pay for the transport costs.

Then again that sympathy soon vanishes when I read stories like the one on Woodbridge Lib Dem County Councillor Caroline Page’s blog about the County Council spending £780,000 on a “good neighbours” scheme called “Suffolk Circle”. According to their website:
Suffolk Circle offers handily bits of help that make life easier and social opportunities that make it more fun. Membership is open to everybody over the age of 50 living in West Suffolk. It's a great way to get things done and meet new people!
Despite this generous public funding you even have to pay £30 a year to join. So far only 363 people have. And whilst the Circle seems nice to have it must surely be more important that children can attend a school that meets their needs and helps them succeed.

This money would pay for the extra home to school transport in Leiston and Saxmundham for nearly 8 years...

Tonight the show moves on to Beccles with a meeting at the now iconic Sir John Leman High School. Something tells me this will be interesting!
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