Calls for fairer funding over grammar transport

Campaigners in rural areas near Sleaford claim a county council review is doing little to redress a system that denies children free transport to grammar schools.

Campaigners are calling for equality on bus routes to Grammar Schools in Sleaford. EMN-160315-101543001
Campaigners are calling for equality on bus routes to Grammar Schools in Sleaford. EMN-160315-101543001

The current and future options have a big impact on parents wishing to send their children to the county’s grammar schools.

Under the current system pupils living in what is referred to as Designated Transport Areas (DTA) are entitled to subsidised transport to grammar schools.

However, students from some rural areas - including Claypole, Fulbeck, Dry Doddington and Beckingham - do not fall into a DTA and because they have a nearer, designated comprehensive have to pay for transport if they want a selective education.

School transport campaigners outside County Hall. EMN-160315-132732001

John Briggs, of Claypole, set up a campaign group for an equal policy across Lincolnshire for free transport to grammar schools.

Concerned county councillor for Branston and Navenby Coun Marianne Overton said: “We interviewed two children. Both had worked hard and passed their 11-plus. One was able to attend with free transport, the other was not.

“His parents could not afford the transport and he explained how that had affected his school life. Children in the wrong area who work hard and pass the exam are then faced with finding a place on a bus and a substantial bill for the next five years.”

She said: “Whether you agree with grammar schools or not isn’t the point, it is the unfairness that is quite outrageous. All children should have an equal opportunity.”

School transport campaigners outside County Hall. EMN-160315-132732001

Campaigners presented a petition of 2,500 signatures to the council which prompted a review and has resulted in two options being put forward - either leaving the transport policy as it is, but reviewing it in two years; or charge pupils living in DTAs for transport to a grammar school where it is not the nearest suitable school. These charges would only apply to new pupils and only after a detailed consultation. It would be on a phased basis with some level of financial support for pupils in receipt of free school meals.

Coun Overton did not believe this made it any fairer.

The options were put forward at a Children and Young Person’s Scrutiny committee meeting earlier this month and will go to the Executive to consider on April 5.

Coun Ray Wootten, vice-chairman of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, said the review was very thorough and also pointed to the potential of another review in two years.

He explained: “This will allow for the possibility of an economic upturn at that stage whereas now we face a difficult time when budgets are being slashed and many discretionary services are under pressure. We have recommended the two most viable options at this time.”