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Victory for Lichfield and Burntwood parents in school transport row

Parents in Lichfield and Burntwood have won part of their battle to keep free school transport after a u-turn by Staffordshire County Council.

An announcement in May told parents that the free bus scheme for students travelling to Catholic schools would be axed as part of a £1.1million cost-cutting scheme.

However, pressure from families has forced the county council to change their plans.

Under the revised proposals – which will be reviewed by the schools and colleges scrutiny committee on August 12 ahead of a fina decision six days later – children who currently receive subsidised school transport will continue to receive it as long as they attend their current school.

However, it has also been confirmed that the free transport on denomination grounds will not be available to new applicants from September 2011.

Ian Parry, Cabinet Member for Children and Families said:

“I believe this decision is fair to all; the taxpayer and the families currently receiving the subsidy. We have listened and responded to the impassioned views expressed during the consultation.

“As a result we have accepted that those children already receiving free transport will continue to for as long as they attend the school. The subsidy will now be phased out gradually, with the new policy applying to pupils starting school in September 2011.”

It had been claimed that ending the free transport for Catholic students would be descriminatory – something County Councillor Parry rejects. He added:

“The proposals were always about fairness rather than cost. However we cannot ignore the fact that we have to make every pound count now more than ever before.

“The responses to our consultation have been analysed in-depth. The most common response was that the proposals discriminated on grounds of faith. We do not accept this claim. The existing arrangements are discriminatory because they grant a special privilege to one group on the grounds of faith. We are phasing out a discriminatory policy, albeit one that is historically rooted.

“We remain committed to the principals of faith education and working with faith schools in Staffordshire. We value the right of parents to send children to a faith school if they wish and would not support proposals that seek to deny that.

“The most financially disadvantaged families will continue to receive free school transport to faith schools as they are entitled to by law, as will eligible children with a statement of special educational needs.”

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