Council to decide future of post-16 school transport

School transport buses.
School transport buses.

A decision will be made next week on the controversial plan to end free transport for post-16 students in Northumberland.

The proposals, which would save Northumberland County Council £2.4m a year, will be discussed at the council’s policy board on Thursday, May 29.

The current scheme will be retained for all post-16 students who will continue their studies in September 2014, and special provision would be made to exempt the most vulnerable groups such as students with special educational needs, or those from low income background who attend their nearest appropriate school or college.

Since the free post-16 student travel scheme was implemented in 2008, the number of students engaged in post-16 education has not increased, yet the costs to the council have risen to £3.3m per year.

The average annual cost to the local authority of transport per student is around £936 a year.

A report to the council’s policy board states that given the budget challenges is faces, the current approach to school transport is no longer sustainable and alternative options to reduce costs need to be considered.

It added that the county is unusual amongst local authorities in that it still provides free transport for 16 to 19-year-old students.

All councils have a duty to ensure that suitable transport is available so that post-16 students can get to school or college, but they are not required to pay the fares.

Durham County Council has already withdrawn its post-16 travel scheme and Cumbria County Council will withdraw the subsidy from September 1 next year.

Following a public consultation, a recommendation has been made to councillors to end the current scheme where 3,500 students are eligible for free transport.

Any changes to the travel policy will be published by May 31 and be implemented from September 1.