PARENTS have said getting segregation removed from school buses is only a hollow victory as they are now faced with the prospect of paying out hundreds of pounds in transport costs.
The News Post Leader revealed in September how rules introduced by Northumberland County Council had banned youngsters of different religions from mixing on school buses.
Parents of students at St Benet Biscop Catholic High School in Bedlington launched a petition protesting against the decision – branded a form of religious apartheid – to run separate buses for Catholic and non-Catholic youngsters.
Now, after a dramatic U-turn, Catholic and non-Catholic students will be able to use the same bus from next month, if non-entiled students pay for a bus pass up front of £120 per term.
While the decision to abolish segregation has been well received, parents have raised concerns about the costs of paying for bus passes, with many pupils sitting exams having to pay for a service they will not be using.
Jan Earl, from Ashington, whose 16-year-old son James Huzzard attends the school, said: “I am delighted at the response that they are doing away with segregated bus routes and combining all faiths, as this is what we wanted.
“However, the resolution does not take into account those Year 11 students leaving at the end of May to return on an as and when required basis to sit exams – some of which may not be able to get the school transport provided due to exam times.
“This means the Year 11 students would have to pay for bus journeys they are not taking.
“Had the council sat up and taken notice last year, this would be well behind us now and both students and parents could prepare for forthcoming exams, not the procedure to get them there at the correct cost.”
Kelly Hudspith, from Newbiggin, said: “When my son Kraig is taking exams in May to June, not only are they expecting me to pay for the school bus for one of the journeys, they also expect me to pay for my child to use the service bus to get them home.
“We may have won the war but not the battle.
“What am I supposed to pay when my child from the Easter term will not be in school full time as he is doing his GCSEs and may be in a full day or half a day and may not require the bus both ways?
“Surely they don’t expect me to pay for bus travel when 50 per cent of the time he may not be using it?”
Governor Wayne Daley said: “Northumberland County Council has agreed that the splitting up of the children is wrong.
“The decision to allow students to travel on the same bus to the same school is a victory for common sense.
“This whole episode has caused considerable upset and concern for parents and students alike.
“It is very clear that the council needs to think more and do some basic checks before imposing changes like this.
“It appears that having seen the concern and anger after the News Post Leader broke this story, that the council has realised this was an unacceptable situation which could not be justified.
“It is testimony to the persistence of parents, students, the school and the News Post Leader that this situation has been resolved.”
A Northumberland Council spokesman said: “Bus services will continue to be provided for children who don’t qualify for free school transport.
“Where we are able, we will accommodate a number of these children on council-funded buses by selling spare seats.
“This will not accommodate all of them so some will be accommodated on two more buses, paid for by the school.
“Their parents will shortly be asked to make an advance payment of £120 a term (or £60 a term if only travelling one way) to use such bus services.
“This charge is already heavily discounted so no further reductions in the concessionary fare will be made available by either the school or the council.
“If parents don’t wish to pay the concessionary fare the other option open to them is to make use of local bus services.
“The annual cost of a concessionary fare is £360, or £1.90 a day, which is competitive when compared to most daily fares.
“Correspondence regarding the new travel arrangements and the charges to be levied will be sent to parents in the next few days.”