NOTE: This content is old - Published: Wednesday, May 15th, 2019.
More than 500 people have raised their voices against plans which could see free travel to colleges and sixth forms in Flintshire withdrawn.
Introducing an annual charge of between £150 to £450 for students in post-16 education is one of six options Flintshire Council has been exploring as it faces mounting financial pressures.
The current policy allows free transport for students attending full time courses, as long as they live three miles or further from their nearest suitable school or college.
Senior figures at the local authority said providing the discretionary service was costing them £860,000 a year.
However, just over 87 per cent of the 647 youngsters and parents who responded to a consultation on the proposals supported keeping the policy as it is.
The findings of the exercise will be presented in a report to backbench politicians next week, which highlights that the number of youngsters who would be affected by the introduction of fees is close to 2,000.
In the report, Claire Homard, the council’s chief officer for education and youth, said:
“The council currently transports a total of 1,950 post-16 students: 1,500 to Coleg Cambria sites and 450 to sixth forms at secondary schools.
“The total cost of college transport has reduced recently following re-tendering and is now £860,000.
“Consultation was carried out using an online consultation tool, Survey Monkey, between 18 February and 5 April 2019.
“The majority of responses favoured maintaining the status quo and not discontinuing free post-16 transport.”
The council sought views on several possibilities, including whether to bring in fees for all schools and colleges, stop the service entirely or keep it as it is.
Another option included introducing charges, but waiving them for individual groups, such as students who receive free school meals and those attending Welsh medium and faith schools.
Despite holding reservations, some education bodies have suggested introducing a charge could be a possible way forward subject to financial support or a waiver being provided for families on low incomes.
In a letter to the authority, members of the Flintshire Secondary Headteachers’ Federation said a fee of £100 per term could be palatable if learners entitled to free school meals or benefits are excluded.
They said: “All headteachers expressed serious concerns that changes to post-16 transport would reduce options for post-16 learners and would potentially impact on the number of students progressing to post-16 courses.
“However, headteachers also understand the need to reduce costs and recognise the significant cost of post-16 transport.
“Taking into account the need to support learners accessing post-16 education whilst reducing costs, headteachers agreed that option three provided the best compromise.
“This option ensures transport is provided for the most deprived learners and still secures a cost saving of £498,000.”
As part of the review, the council is also debating whether to remove free travel for youngsters whose families are in receipt of benefits to save £10,000 per year.
Flintshire is currently the only area in Wales where the discretionary benefit entitlement has been retained.
But more than 90 per cent of those who responded to the survey did not support its removal.
Members of the authority’s education and youth scrutiny committee will meet to discuss the responses on Monday.
They will be asked to provide their observations before the ruling Labour cabinet makes a final decision on whether to change the policy.
If approved, the earliest charges would come into force is September 2020.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).