Parents from rural parts of Northumberland are to stage a protest against the return of transport charges for students in post 16 education.
Parents from Seahouses and other outlying parts of the county are to gather outside a school in Alnwick on Monday evening to display their anger over Northumberland County Council’s decision to reinstate charges for students up to the age of 18 travelling to colleges or schools with sixth forms.
The same parents have also set up a Facebook group opposing the charges which over 300 people have liked in a matter of days.
Transport charges for students aged 16 to 18 were scrapped by the Liberal Democrats when they ran the council in 2008.
But Labour rulers recently approved plans for a £600 charge for students attending their nearest educational establishments, where public transport is not available.
Students who can travel on public transport would have to pay the full cost of their journeys to the transport provider.
Exemptions would apply to young people already in post-16 education who will continue their studies next year, those with special educational needs and those from low income backgrounds who attend their nearest school or college.
Council bosses said the return of charges was necessary as they sought to remove £32m from the authority’s budget in 2014/15 and a further £100m over the next three years.
But now parents from Seahouses and other rural areas are planning a protest outside Alnwick’s Duchess Community High School at 5.30pm on Monday. The same parents have also set up a Facebook page Parents Against Decision to Scrap the Post-16 School Transport, which 311 people have liked since its creation on Tuesday.
Julie Dawson, one of the parents who lives at Seahouses, explained that children from the village have a 30-mile round trip to the school each day.
Mrs Dawson said one of her daughters is just taking their A-Levels at Alnwick and had received free transport to and from the school, but her younger daughter will be starting at the high school’s sixth form in September and will have to pay.
Mrs Dawson said families at Belford, Wooler and other outlying areas face the same problem.
“The Government has stated that children now have to stay on in full time education until 17 or 18 and it has just come to light that Northumberland County Council are stopping the free bus to schools for rural children and it is going to cost families £600 per year.
“It is a case of rural people being left out again, if we don’t live in Morpeth/Ashington etc we are not considered.
“This is rural communities being discriminated against yet again by Northumberland County Council.”
A council Labour group spokesperson said: “We understand that people will be upset about the change in policy but we would point out that the coalition government supported by local politicians from Lib Dems and Conservatives have cut the council budget by a third with further cuts of a quarter up to 2017. This means tough choices.
“Our plan leaves a £900,000 ‘parachute’ payment to allow schools and colleges to work out a local solution to the post 16 transport issue.
“49% of post 16 pupils already study ‘in county’ and it’s with reluctance that we have to revisit a policy which hasn’t changed since its introduction in 2008.
“Since then demand has increased by 323% yet funding has fallen by a third. Those students who study outside the county have taken £28m with them, largely to Tyne and Wear colleges since 2008.
“While we are sympathetic to how the decision has affected families we would point out that we will continue to protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people and the ‘parachute payment’ will allow post 16 educational establishments to plan ways to get young people to their courses. These protections were not offered by the coalition government when they scrapped Educational Maintenance Allowance and tripled tuition fees.”