Anger over plans to axe free travel

PUBLISHED: 13:46 25 May 2006 | UPDATED: 14:42 12 May 2010

OPPOSITION is growing against proposals to axe free transport for faith schools - and Royston s MP Oliver Heald has joined the battle. Mr Heald has expressed his deep concern over the plans, which have been announced by Herts County Council. He said: W

OPPOSITION is growing against proposals to axe free transport for faith schools - and Royston's MP Oliver Heald has joined the battle.

Mr Heald has expressed his "deep concern" over the plans, which have been announced by Herts County Council.

He said: "We believe in parents having a choice of diverse and high-quality schools. By ending the funding of transport in respect of faith schools, this choice would be diminished for many parents.

"I have received a large number of letters and e-mails from concerned parents, particularly those living in rural areas who will find themselves in great difficulty if free transport is withdrawn."

Public consultations are continuing until June 9 over the plans which would save the county council £3.4 million.

The county council argues that subsidies for pupils attending faith schools, such as St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Royston, should be the same for non-faith school pupils.

Cllr Robert Gordon, executive member for education, said: "We recognise the role of faith schools and the high standards they provide, but we have to make the fairest possible use of resources.

"These savings will help us to make investments in other areas of education."

At the moment the majority of pupils from St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Royston transfer to the John Henry Newman School in Stevenage - the nearest Roman Catholic secondary school in the area.

St Mary's School head teacher Tony Carroll accused the county council of back-tracking on a commitment to faith schools, as their locations were determined in conjunction with the authority.

He said: "If subsidised transport is cut then many of our families may not be able to send their children to Catholic schools because the annual travel costs for each child will be in excess of £500.

"We may also find that John Henry Newman School closes, which would have a knock-on effect on all the Catholic schools, and other schools, in Hertfordshire.

"It might be that we would have to opt to the three-tier system or even close altogether," he said.

A statement from John Henry Newman School said: "If adopted, the proposals will have major consequences for the school, threatening our immediate and long term future - about 70 per cent of our pupils depend on free transport.

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