Home to School Transport Policy
Cabinet considered the report regarding the proposed changes to the Home to School Transport Policy from 1st September 2021.
The Deputy Chairman of Cabinet, Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, Health and Mental Health informed Cabinet that in keeping with national policy we wished to encourage pupils to engage in active travel to school such as walking or cycling, accompanied as appropriate. School travel plans, which are managed by the schools, help to encourage, and develop alternative travel options such as active travel and raise awareness about travel issues such as air pollution and road safety.
He highlighted section 2.2 of the report that mentioned that the council was required to provide free home to school transport where a child meets certain eligibility criteria. These criteria were set out in table 1 and form the basis of the statutory elements of the policy.
Cabinet were also informed that the council encouraged, enabled and assist young people of sixth form age and above to undertake education and training and to this end they went above what was above the statutory requirements.
Consulted with parents, schools, stakeholders, and other interested parties had been undertaken. The feedback had been considered in the recommended options set out in table 3.
The Director of Children’s Services informed that table one showed the statutory criteria for home to school transport. The distance criteria is the most common question we get from residents, up to the age of eight attending primary school the safe walking distance was 2 miles and 3 miles after 8 accompanied by an appropriate adult. Each application is assessed on need. For those families that qualify on low income they will remain eligible for transport irrespective of the proposed changes. The changes are only in discretionary areas.
Cabinet were also informed that home to school transport was funded from the general fund and was in addition to the £130 million it gets for education. Of the £2.8 million spent on school transport £2 million is for children with additional needs. Table 3 showed the options that went out for consultation, there was a high level of response as shown in table 8.
The Deputy Leader of the Council, Resident and Leisure Services, HR, IT, Legal, Performance Management and Windsor felt that it was an excellent report as it showed what the council was doing to help children get to school. Even though it can cost £651 per year for some routes the council pay £2,500 so there is a considerable subsidy. For residents on low incomes there remained the ability to apply for getting their costs covered.
The Lead Member for Planning, Environmental Services and Maidenhead reported that changes in his ward would affect children going to Cox Green, however this special allowance was given as there was only one choice in school. This has been negated as Holyport College has changed its admissions criteria.
The Lead Member for Climate Change, Sustainability, Parks and Countryside congratulated the transparency of the paper and how engagement was undertaken and the insight it gave into transport needs. It was also important to have active school travel where appropriate.
Cllr Tisi said that it would be hard for those families who would be losing subsidies midway through a child’s education or when they had just committed to a school place in September. The report should have recommended softer options or phased introduction. The report mentioned 16 to 19 year olds with educational or disability needs who may get bursaries to cover transport costs or low income families receiving help. She asked Cabinet if they would make sure parents were aware of the help they could receive and signpost them to support.
The Lead Member responded to comments by informing that parents in Holyport would still be eligible to help under criteria mention to support transport costs and with regards to the bursary system the council would help and signpost residents in getting support. Only last week he had undertaken an exercise in testing how accessible the links were to get assistance.
The Director for Children’s Services also informed that the bursary scheme was run by the government that schools applied for on behalf of students and there was the expectation the vast majority of 16 year olds would be eligible. It would require families to share information so criteria could be met.
Cllr Knowles declared that he was a school governor at St Peter’s School and a ward member for school affected. At St Peter’s they were just finishing off a school expansion at the request of RBWM, about one third of applicants would be from Eton and Eton Wick and would have been looking at taking advantage of the discount. The timing of the consultation and announcement is wrong and should have been done earlier for a better lead in time when parents were making their choice of school. Accessibility to the three tier system needs to be considered, especially to middle schools. There is no way for children to Cycle from Eton Wick to Windsor safely on a daily basis. The principle of fairness is correct but the timing is wrong.
Cabinet were informed that with regards to timings it had to be approved in May for introduction in September, they were working on a defined timetable and decisions had not been forced through. The consultation had gone above and beyond in connecting with people and included discussions at the Schools Forum and meetings with head teachers. There was a difference between the times for applying for school places and the time to apply for transport. With regards to St Peter’s the bus route to Eton Wick was being maintained.
Resolved unanimously that: Cabinet notes the report and:
i) Approves the recommended changes to the Home to School Transport policy as set out in table 3 so that it better reflects statutory guidance and is fairer to all residents and schools whilst continuing to support our most vulnerable families.