A petition calling for the abolition of “unfair” bus fares to local children’s nearest catholic school is part of a four-pronged strategy developed by Ribble Valley parents.
Around 50 parents met at St Michael and St John’s social centre last night (Wednesday) to discuss ways to challenge Lancashire County Council’s decision to charge parents for their children’s transport to St Augustine’s RC High School at Billington.
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans spoke at the meeting telling parents they could add his efforts to their strategy. He has already asked the Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Andrew Lansley MP, for a debate on the issue and has emailed other MPs to find out if they are facing a similar problem in their constituencies.
Mr Evans said he will also be making direct representations to Lib Dem schools minister David Laws who is in the process of bringing out a consultation paper and a new policy regarding school transport.
Mr Evans said he believed parents should not be charged for their children’s transport to school, when the distance of that school was a reasonable distance from their home. He added that he wanted to see local authority’s discretion to choose who is entitled to subsidised transport removed.
“I’ve always believed that access to education should be free,” Mr Evans said adding that both parents of children who attend faith schools and selective schools like Clitheroe Royal Grammar School are in the same boat if their chosen school is not their nearest school.
The head teacher of St Augustine’s Mr Michael Wright told the meeting that throughout the majority of the school’s 50 year history, Ribble Valley children have been entitled to free transport to the catholic secondary school.
However, in 2011 parents were asked to make a contribution of £380 per year towards the cost of travel, despite. 98.5 per cent of parents objecting to the charge when consulted.
There was a further consultation in 2013 on proposals to increase the charges for pupils attending faith schools. And again despite more than 1,000 responses and more than three quarters of respondents objecting to the increased fees, the charges are now set to increase from £380 to £475 for families from September 2014, representing a 25% increase. In future years this figure will increase by inflation plus 5%.
The rules mean that if a pupil’s nearest catholic school lies further away than the nearest non-catholic school, parents have to pay for a bus pass.
An e-petition has been set up by Clitheroe mum Rachel Stanworth (40), who has a daughter at St Augustine’s and a son at Clitheroe’s only catholic primary school St Michael and St John’s.
Rachel, alongside fellow parent Faith Venguedasalon (41), whose two sons will both attend St Augustine’s by this September, approached parish priest Monsignor John Corcoran to ask what the church is doing about the issue and the meeting was subsequently arranged.
Investigations to find out whether litigation action can be taken against LCC on the grounds that it is discriminating against catholic pupils by forcing them to pay for their school transport are also being carried out as part of the parents’ strategy.
And finally a working group was formed during the meeting that will develop a coordinated approach with representatives from the other parishes in the school’s catchment area.
Coun. Ian Brown, Conservative councillor for Ribble Valley Borough Council’s Salthill ward, also offered his support at the meeting.
To sign the e-petition visit: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/64882