Cutting cash for transport 'could force schools to close'
A head teacher has warned reducing or removing funding for transport to religious schools could result in the closure of smaller schools in the city.
Raymond Friel, who is the executive head of both St Gregory's Catholic College and St Mark's CE School, has told councillors that changes to such funding could destabilise education just as schools emerge from a period of uncertainty and reshuffle.
Bath and North East Somerset Council is carrying out a review of its spending on home to school transport, including for children in care, those with special needs, those from low income families and those whose walking route to school is deemed "hazardous".
But it is the £245,000-a-year cost of denominational transport which has come under the closest scrutiny.
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Mr Friel urged councillors on the council's early years, children and youth policy development and scrutiny panel to realise the importance of the subsidised bus fares for families living outside Bath, and said that any loss in funding could have a knock-on effect on other schools.
He said: "If this subsidy is removed, there will almost certainly be a drop in the number of Catholic pupils at St Gregory's. These places will be filled because St Gregory's is an attractive school but from where and by whom?
" My fear is for other, smaller schools in the authority. So once again we will be looking again at school closures, but this time in an unmanaged or politically unacceptable way."
A number of parents and pupils talked about what they saw as their right to attend the "closest appropriate school".
Tess Daly, who represents the Catholic Diocese of Clifton, echoed these concerns, saying that reducing the subsidy would be unfair to families who did not live close enough to a faith school.
She said: "Parents in more rural areas in north east Somerset, especially if they are middle income and not in receipt of benefits, are the ones who will be penalised."
Panel members voted to recommend the cabinet should seek to reduce the spend on denominational transport by looking at raising the financial contribution which parents have to pay, removing the 50 per cent reduction for second and third children or removing the subsidy for families with more than three children needing transport.
They rejected an option of a phased withdrawal of funding for pupils joining faith schools from 2014.
The final decision will be made by the cabinet, which does not have to accept the recommendations, in March.
The panel heard that a decision will have to be made relatively quickly because the new policy will need to be included in the September 2014 admissions booklet which is published this summer.