Barnston parents forced to drive their children to school in Dunmow - while family members take school bus

Councillor Patrick Lavelle of Great Dunmow South and Barnston

Councillor Patrick Lavelle of Great Dunmow South and Barnston - Credit: Archant

Barnston parents are being forced to drive their children to school in Dunmow - while older children in the family can catch the school bus.

Cllr Ray Gooding, Cabinet Member for Education. Picture: Essex County Council

Cllr Ray Gooding, Cabinet Member for Education. Picture: Essex County Council - Credit: Essex County Council

Unhappy parents got together for a socially distanced meeting.

They told Uttlesford district councillors and parish councillors that children from the village go to Great Dunmow Primary School and Dunmow St Mary’s Primary School - which are very close to each other. Parents are asked to select their prefered school, but Essex County Council makes the decision.

In 2015, Essex County Council said that only new starters who had applied to their nearest school would receive free travel. The county council ruled the nearest school to Barnston was St Mary’s.

At that time, the bus operator took children on a paying basis at £600 per child per year if the child did not qualify for free travel.

The meeting heard the council contract has been awarded to a different operator who can’t take further children.

Parents said it’s impossible to walk from Barnston to Dunmow - traffic is too fast, too heavy, and it would involve crossing the off-slip and on-slip of the A120. At Buttles Hill, the road is so narrow that two lorries mount the footpath in order to pass each other. Uttlesford District councillor Colin Day said Essex County Council had confirmed there was no available walking route.

Most Read

A parish councillor said that for years they had been trying to install a pedestrian crossing in Barnston, but a traffic survey found the vehicles were travelling too fast and it would be unsafe.

The meeting heard that traffic would be at peak volume and speed at a time when children want to cross the road.

One dad said the issue impacts six children this year but the numbers will grow each year.

He said all Barnston children should get transport.

“Common sense should have been applied in the case of Barnston residents due to the unique circumstances, whereby the road is completely inappropriate for walking to school, coupled with the fact that the schools are virtually the same distance away from Barnston. It is also a lottery as to which school parents get for their children.”

He added: “We feel that the councill is basing its decision purely on cost-cutting, ignoring the immediate danger to child safety.”

A mum said she had lodged several appeals with Essex County Council over the years.

“Every time I get the same answer - no.”

District councillor Patrick Lavelle said they would do what they could to help by raising the issue with various meetings.

Neither Essex County Council’s Susan Barker nor Ray Gooding were present.

In a written statement after the meeting, Cllr Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “Transport is provided to the nearest available school subject to the policy criteria. If a child is attending the nearest available school and the walking route is unavailable, transport is provided.

“There will be some circumstances where one child in a family may be eligible, whilst another is not, depending upon the circumstances of the individual case.

“Although we are unable to comment on specific children here, the reasons for declining any application are explained to the individual parent. The law does not require transport to be provided on the basis of a sibling link.

“Where a child is not eligible to receive transport, the availability, cost and sale of any spare seats if there are any is an entirely commercial matter for the relevant transport operator.

“We do understand the concerns of parents, however the council has no role in the sale or provision of spare seats.”