BY ED WEST
THE CATHOLIC Education Service of England and Wales (CESEW) has expressed alarm at the numberoflocal authorities withdrawing transport subsidies for children attending Church schools.
Parents across England and Wales are facing bills running into thousands of pounds following decisions by councils to remove discretionary subsidies for transport to schools with a religious character, including many Catholic schools.
The CESEW estimates that over 50 per cent of local authorities are no longer offering transport subsidies for children attending faith schools and a further seven per cent are consulting on whether to withdraw subsidies. Children attendingCatholic schools often have to travel long distances to school and the removal of subsidies can cost parents up to £1,500 per child for a year’s travel. According to data gathered by the BBC, compiled following a Freedom of Information request by the Campaign for Better Transport, three quarters of English councils are reviewing or making cuts to wider school transport services.
Greg Pope, deputy director of the CESEW, said: “If parents have more than one child then these cuts can lead to bills of potentially thousands of pounds. Most parents simply cannot afford such costs. Parents should be able to choose to send their children to a Catholic school if they would like their child to receive a Catholic education but these charges will remove that choice. We strongly urge local authorities not to penalise Catholic parents in this way.” Under the current rules assistance with travel costs to denominational schools is enshrined under the 1944 Education Act. The 1996 Education Act placed a duty on local authorities to provide suitable travel arrangements to ensure a child’s attendance at school. This covers a distance of up to two miles forchildrenbelow the age ofeightand up to three miles for older children. Numerous councils across the country are now phasing out subsidies. Essex County Council this month announced it will cut its £2.2 million subsidy, which will affect 1,800 pupils at 49 faith schools, among them 500 pupils from St Benedict’s Catholic College, in Colchester, who will have to pay for transport to schools from September.
Peter Johnson, acting principal of St Benedict’s, said several hundred pupils would now be paying £900 a year rather than £300.
He said: “It will have a significant impact on us. I have heard of schools that have had their numbers drop.” Although pupils whose parents are on benefits will still receive subsidies, those just above the breadline could face enormous costs.
Mr Johnson said that dealing with the council had become “immensely frustrating”.
He said: “It’s unlikely they will be persuaded. They do not understand the nature of Catholic schools. All they say is that we’re subsidised.” Brentwood diocese education director Mgr George Stokes said that the CESEW was taking the right approach in pressing the issue.
He said: “What can be done is what is being done. We should be pressing the Continued on Page 2