Bedlington Catholic High School sparks row over school bus "segregation"

ANGRY parents have accused council bosses of segregation after children from different religious faiths were stopped from travelling together on St Benet Biscop Catholic High School buses.

St Benet Biscop Catholic High School pupil Zoe Norton with mum Cherie

ANGRY parents have accused council bosses of segregation after children from different religious faiths were stopped from travelling together on school buses.

Until now, Catholic and non-Catholic pupils who attend St Benet Biscop Catholic High School in Bedlington, Northumberland have been able to ride on the same buses if they live more than three miles from the school.

Catholic children get the transport free while others – whose parents choose to send them to the faith school – paid for their youngsters to share the buses.

Now, after a county council re-tendering exercise for school transport, only Catholic pupils are being allowed on the council-funded buses to St Benet Biscop.

It has meant the school having to pay for three extra buses so that its non-Catholic pupils can continue to be transported.

Furious parents have slammed the new rules as segregation based on faith ... an allegation which the council has strongly refuted.

Parents and a local county councillor say it has created a religious divide between friends and classmates, who previously travelled to and from school together.

The revised transport arrangements were introduced at the start of the new term at what is the only Catholic high school in Northumberland.

Marketing and communications adviser Sowmya Pulle, who lives in Cramlington and whose son Niran, 15, is one of the non-Catholic children who now have to get a separate bus, said: “I can’t believe in this century that a council can go ahead and support segregation, because that is what it is.

“Extra buses are having to be put on at the school’s expense because of changing a system that has worked perfectly well for years. Non-Catholic children like Niran have always paid for the transport and it has never been a problem. I just think the county council has to re-think its policy, because I can’t believe this meets equal opportunities rules.”

Wayne Daley, county councillor for Cramlington North, said non-Catholic parents had always been prepared to pay for their children to share the council-provided buses.

“The system worked wonderfully well, with the pupils travelling and being taught together. We now have a situation where children are waiting at the bus stop and some get on one bus and the rest on another. It is segregation based on religion.

“If this had been done on the basis of pupils’ colour people would be rioting on the streets.”

A county council spokesman said entitlement to free transport to St Benet Biscop was based on children living more than three miles away, and being of the Catholic faith.

He said: “Up to the end of the last academic year the school buses that were paid for by the council were larger than required, and there were plenty of spare seats for non-entitled, fare-paying children to travel on. Unfortunately, in the interests of making cost savings, these arrangements have had to end.

“The council has no duty to provide additional capacity on its contracted school transport vehicles for non-entitled, fare-paying children as well. We make 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.

“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. It is misleading to describe the arrangements as segregation.

“There is a distinction between those entitled to free transport and those not entitled to free transport, which includes non-Catholics and also Catholics who live within three miles of the school.”

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