Great Dunmow parents frustrated over council’s school bus policy

Bus generic

Bus generic - Credit: Archant

Parents of school children have criticised Essex County Council’s new free school transport policy.

Kate and Stuart Coles from Barnston were informed they would not be able to send four-year-old son with his sister as he would not receive free transport to Great Dunmow Primary School as their second choice school, St Mary’s, is closer to home.

Mrs Coles said: “The whole situation seems ridiculous when in fact the same bus collects children from Barnston and takes them to both the Dunmow schools which are yards apart and indeed drops the Great Dunmow Primary School pupils off first.

“I also know for a fact that there are empty seats on the school bus so the council would not need to fund a bigger one.”

Under the new policy children no longer qualify for free transport by precedent or feeder school. Instead eligibility is based on the child attending their nearest school if it is more than two miles from their home address (this increases to three miles for children over the age of eight).

Mr and Mrs Coles already have a six-year-old daughter who attends Great Dunmow Primary after she was unable to get a place at Saint Mary’s which was oversubscribed.

Ironically, council policy now means their son will only receive free transport if he attends Saint Mary’s.

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Mrs Coles added: “Every few years the council has raised its nasty head on the school bus issue but this time they seem to have changed tactic, ignoring catchment area.

“It’s all about nearest school which we had no hope of getting our children into – it is farcical.

“What should be an exciting time for our son in starting school for the first time, we as a family are left trying to work out how are we going to get him there.

“I would like to think that some common-sense will prevail in this situation and that this policy change can be revisited.”

Mr and Mrs Coles approached the Broadcast after reading last week’s article on the case of Samantha Jones and her daughter, Bethany Brown.

Bethany was refused free transport to Helena Romanes School on the grounds it was 352 yards further than her nearest secondary school.

Cllr Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education, said: “For children newly starting in Reception from September 2015, free transport will be provided to children attending the nearest primary school to their home if this school is 2 miles or more from the home.

“This is in accordance with statutory responsibilities and establishes a consistent and equitable policy criteria across the county. There is no requirement in law to take into account ‘catchment’ areas in the assessment of home to school transport entitlement.”