School loses fight over free buses

PUBLISHED: 11:29 20 July 2006 | UPDATED: 14:45 12 May 2010

DOUG DRAKE

DOUG DRAKE

A SCHOOL in Royston has lost its battle to save a free bus service. St Mary s Catholic Primary School is one of more than 100 faith schools in Herts that will lose the service in a £2.5 million a year cost-cutting exercise. The decision comes after the co

DAVID LLOYD

A SCHOOL in Royston has lost its battle to save a free bus service.

St Mary's Catholic Primary School is one of more than 100 faith schools in Herts that will lose the service in a £2.5 million a year cost-cutting exercise.

The decision comes after the county council voted to phase out free school transport from September 2007.

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

Robert Dunbar, deputy headteacher of St Mary's School, said: "We are saddened and disappointed.

"We are concerned about the impact on the whole community for faith schools and non-faith schools.

"We hope when the final decision comes, they will consider the pros and cons carefully.

"The ultimate impact could be that parents will have to pay vast amounts of money to send their children to John Henry Newman.

"In the long-term this could mean that less children are likely to come to St Mary's and this could have an impact on other schools in the area, particularly The Meridian School."

Following a public consultation, the county council received 19,000 responses on the proposals, with only 2,000 people in support.

It was the largest response it had received in a consultation exercise.

Cllr David Lloyd, executive member for education, said: "We have a proud tradition in Herts of working closely with all faiths in terms of education.

"This is not a sign of a local education authority that is honour bound of getting rid of faith schools.

"It's around equity and provision of transport for a small minority of children across the county.

"This is the question you have got to ask yourself - is it right that these children get a third of the budget spent on them? I don't feel it is fair - I think we need some equality."

But Cllr Chris White, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told him: "If you're a friend of faith schools, I would hate to meet the enemy.

"This is not a way forward. it's a terrible mistake.

"This is like putting a hand-grenade into the system because we don't know what it will do."

Royston's county councillor, Doug Drake, voted for the cuts.

He said: "I followed all the reasoning that was being made about equality for everyone across the county.

"Everyone who pays Council Tax would wonder why they were paying to send one group of children to schools when they were given a choice of schools.

"I can understand paying for transport for schools to anyone who lives a certain distance away, but when we have a choice of school, then I feel it's right that if you're making that choice that you should pay towards the transport."

Cllr Tony Hunter, who represents the rural area of North Herts, voted against the cuts to school transport.

He said: "As a matter of conscience I believe it is something we shouldn't withdraw because we have been doing it for all these years.

"I can, however, see both sides of the argument."

Over the next two years the council has to save £40 million.

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