At Tuesday’s final transport consultation in Sudbury Upper School a parent told a story about travel that was so unbelievable I made a point of speaking to her afterwards to check the details. This parent lives in Long Melford as do two of her friends.
Now this parent has three children at Sudbury Upper School all get a bus to school. However as her house is 2.8 miles from the school she has to pay as the statutory distance is 3 miles. The journey would be along unlit country lanes and whilst there is a path I am not sure many people would let a 13 year old, let alone an 11 year old walk this route every day to school. So she has to pay around £1300 a year.
Her friend lives a bit further up the road and her children travel on the same bus. But as she is 3 miles away she doesn’t have to pay.
Now already I am feeling this woman’s pain - but - I suppose you do have to draw the line somewhere.
But it was the next thing she said that astonished me. Another friend sends her children to the Stour Valley Community School, the free school in Clare that opened in September. That is 7 miles away and although Sudbury Upper is closer Suffolk County Council pay for their travel to Clare but they would not to Sudbury Upper as they are too close.
So if the lady in question moved her children 7 miles away to Clare she wouldn't have to pay a penny.
I still do not understand how this happened. Suffolk County Council say that the DfE advised them that they way they were dealing with transport in the area was “unfair” and alleged it breached the Academies Act as it did not treat the free school the same as other schools. So the County Council seem to have ended up paying for transport to Clare for pretty much anyone who wants it.
The transport consultation is at least in part an attempt by the County Council to extricate themselves from this mess. I alternate between sympathy at how the DfE have messed things up for them and anger at the fact that the County Council has a policy encouraging free schools.
The County Council officer told us how they told the DfE that the free school in Clare was not needed and there were not enough pupils. Now Sudbury Upper School is in trouble and there are doubts that the current number of schools are sustainable in the long term.
There was a lot of call at the meeting for the County Council and elected councillors in particular to stand up in public against the DfE