Council went against school to segregate children on buses

St Benet Biscop School at Bedlington.
St Benet Biscop School at Bedlington.

A COUNCIL decision to segregate pupils based on their religion was made against the advice of the school.

On Wednesday the News Post Leader exclusively revealed how new rules introduced by Northumberland County Council ban youngsters of different religious backgrounds from mixing on school buses.

The move – described by some as apartheid – sparked fury in parents who say it is creating a clear divide between Roman Catholics and non-Catholics at Bedlington’s St Benet Biscop Catholic High School.

And now we can reveal that the decision was made by the council despite pleas from staff at the school, who were keen to keep away from the move.

Headteacher Con Todd said the school had fought the decision and were disappointed the council had gone against their wishes.

Mr Todd said: “The county council decision not to allow our non-entitled, fare paying pupils to travel on the same buses as entitled pupils was taken against the advice of the school and the Diocese who have been vigorously opposed to this decision throughout.

“The county council has been aware of our objections since discussions began earlier this year. The school advised county council officials of the implications of this decision; however, our advice was not heeded.

“The school has done everything within its power to persuade the county council to review its decision, but to no avail.

“We have taken every available step to minimise the impact of this decision on our families.”

Previously, children at the Ridge Terrace school had been able to share buses with their peers, but new regulations brought into force this term mean that separate buses are now run for pupils of different faiths.

And yesterday were revealed how parent Cherie Nelson, who has lived through apartheid in her home country of South Africa, was taking the matter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in a bid to overturn the decision.

The three buses are believed to be costing the council more than £90,000 a year minus the income generated by the fares from the non-Catholic students using the service.

Northumberland County Council said this week they had removed transport for fare-paying children in the “interests of making cost savings.”

A spokesman said: “The council has no duty to provide additional capacity on its contracted school transport vehicles to carry non-entitled fare-paying children.

“The council makes transport arrangements for all those children who qualify for free transport only.

“It is not the council’s responsibility to make or maintain any arrangements for non-entitled children attending Northumberland schools. This is in line with statutory and council policy.

“It is not commonplace for non-entitled fare-paying and entitled non-fare-paying children to travel together on school transport. Usually they travel separately.”