Making kids walk save the council
Parents are being asked for their views on a council plan to reduce pupils’ eligibility for free school transport.
A controversial consultation exercise began on Monday over the proposals which would change the qualifying criteria for pupils living more than two miles from their catchment primary school and three miles from secondaries.
Changing the current limits of one and two miles respectively would save around £2.4 million
Consultation on the proposal – affecting nearly three-quarters of primary pupils currently in receipt of free transport and almost half of their high school counterparts – was given the go- ahead only after a casting vote was required at a tense council education committee meeting last week.
Both the SNP and Conservative groups rejected the proposal relating to primary pupils, meaning the committee vote was tied at 17-17.
That saw convener Frank McNally, of the Labour abour minority administration, breaking the e deadlock by y using his vote to o decide that the e consultation n should take place.
The secondary y consultation was s given the go-ahead d by 21 votes to 13, , as Conservative e members lent their r support to carrying g out the exercise in n relation to the older er children.
The consultation n runs until January 9.
SNP group leader er David Stocks said: d: “We felt we shouldn’t n’t be looking for these se savings from young children; we have to try to find them elsewhere.
“We didn’t want to change anything in relation to primary or high school transport. The Conservatives voted with our amendment on the primary transport and it went to the casting vote.”
Group education spokesman Tom Johnston added: “I find it appalling that Labour are considering making five- year- olds walk two miles to school and imposing a three-mile walk on secondary pupils.
“No thought is being given to single parents in employment, parents with children attending two different schools, young children of working parents, and those with no car.
“School transport is important for ensuring pupils arrive on time; forcing young children to walk will only increase traffic dangers at the school gate.
“Labour is the only party considering making five-year-olds walk two miles – both the SNP and the Tories reject this.
“I think the split committee vote means the primary changes won’t go through; uproar from parents will quickly sink this ill thought-out proposal.”
Conservative group leader Meghan Gallacher said: “We believe that primary children should have school transport for health and safety reasons and protection of young people – the first thing we thought of was the issue of kids as young as four or five making their own way to school.
“Our group read the SNP amendment [ rejecting the consultation] and felt we could support it as it mirrored how we felt in relation to primary transport.
“We felt the high school proposal could go to consultation but that doesn’t mean that the decision is made.
“There are clear financial pressures but we feel you can’t put a price on young children’s safety.” Council leader Jim L Logue , pic pictured, said: “I “It’s simply fo for financial re reasons that we’re being f o rc e d to lo look at this, Se S e vent e en c councils ha have already d done this or ha have different permutations and only a very small number have one and twom mile limits.
“If it’s not accepted then that £ £2.4m has to befoundelsewhereinth be found elsewhere in the education budget, over 50 per cent of which is already ring-fenced.
“It’s a difficult situation and the budget is more challenging than ever before.”
Reducing eligibility for free school transport has been considered and rejected in previous North Lanarkshire budgets; the authority currently provides free transport for more than 8000 pupils, with the budget for this year amounting to £5.5 million
A report for councillors projects that 1916 primary and 2670 secondary pupils would be affected by a reduction in the entitlement to transport, with 723 and 2838 respectively remaining eligible – and adds: “It should be noted that this proposal does not affect the transport arrangements for pupils with additional support needs.”