County savings on student transport costs - what do you think?

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SAVINGS of around £300,000 are set to be made by the county council, following the decision on the future of home to school and college transport for post 16 students.

West Sussex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Schools Peter Griffiths has decided that, following consultation:

Assistance with transport for students, who do not have special educational needs, will end from September 2011. However, this will only apply to new students and not those who are part way through a study course.

Parents of students with special educational needs will be charged a contribution of £360 towards transport costs when they start a new course, but this will not apply to young people from low-income families – those whose incomes are the equivalent to the eligibility criteria for free school meals.

The decisions are expected to save around £300,000 and raise around £80,000 in extra income.

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Mr Griffiths said: “After a very wide ranging and comprehensive consultation, it has not been an easy decision to take. It has to be seen against the background of the enormous financial challenge the County Council is facing in having to find budget savings of £79 million over three years.

“The budget for school transport cannot be immune to the need for savings, but it is important to stress that the changes will not apply to families whose children are currently attending a course, only to new starters.

“In the case of low-income families of children with special needs they will not pay the new contribution that forms part of my decision.

“Today’s report does also outline other assistance that is available to a very large majority of students, such as the 3in1 scheme where the card will still be free to students from low-income families.

“Although the Education Maintenance Allowance scheme (EMA) has now closed for new students, the government has announced the introduction of a 16-19 Bursary Fund which is expected to be channelled through schools and colleges to support vulnerable students and those from families facing financial hardship.”

Around 700 students across the county currently get some form of financial assistance.

Students with special educational needs, attending a course appropriate to their needs, currently receive transport free of charge, regardless of family income.

Around 300 post 16 students with special educational needs are assisted with transport – with about 22 per-cent coming from low-income families.

Mr Griffiths said: “Various figures were included in the consultation and a charge of between £360 and £499 was the one that the majority of respondents felt was reasonable, and I have opted for the bottom end of that scale.”

Many children with special needs require transport such as taxis, minibuses or wheelchair accessible vehicles, whilst some are able to use public transport.

The report lists some of the help that is available to all students such as:

The county council’s 3in1 card, which gives young people in the post 16 age group half fare bus travel throughout the day and at weekends if they are in full-time education in West Sussex. The card is free to young people from low-income families.

The National Concessionary Travel Scheme offering free bus travel to people of any age with disabilities. The county council has agreed to extend the conditions of use so that people with disabilities who qualify can travel before 9.30am where journeys start and end in West Sussex.

The new 16-19 Bursary Fund – this is expected to be channelled through schools and colleges to support vulnerable students and those from families facing financial hardship.

Mr Griffiths said: “We are also exploring an independent travel training scheme for post 16 students, and will be looking at opportunities for funding to support training currently provided through schools and colleges.”

The full report can be seen under Executive Decisions at www.westsussex.gov.uk

The decision is subject to the county council’s call in procedure and will come into effect at 5pm on June 16.