Northumberland County Council claims no 'detrimental impact' from transport charges

But Northumberland County Council admits there has been a fall in student numbers after bringing in transport charges

Parents and students protest outside County Hall Morpeth against future transport cuts for schools in Northumberland
Parents and students protest outside County Hall Morpeth against future transport cuts for schools in Northumberland

Council bosses have insisted that their controversial scrapping of free transport for students has not had a “detrimental impact” on admissions.

Officials at Northumberland County Council admitted there has been a slight fall in numbers entering post-16 education since they introduced fees in an attempt to save £800,000 a year.

But they claim it is due to a lower amount of children of school leaving age, not that teenagers are being detered from continuing their education, employment or training.

Parents and students protest outside County Hall, Morpeth against future transport cuts for schools in Northumberland
Parents and students protest outside County Hall, Morpeth against future transport cuts for schools in Northumberland
 

“Early analysis of the numbers of students aged 16-18 enrolled for this year indicate that as a whole the new policy has not had a detrimental impact,” a new report from the council says.

“Although the overall numbers in Post-16 education have declined a little, this is because of the smaller Year 11 population from which the current Year 12 came.”

“Last year 2.6% of all young people in Northumberland were categorised as NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training).

“The percentage so far for this year has reduced by 1% to 1.6%.”

“Early budget forecasts indicate the council is currently on target to achieve the £800k saving that was predicted for 2014/15 for this academic year.”

Parents and students protest outside County Hall, Morpeth against future transport cuts for schools in Northumberland
Parents and students protest outside County Hall, Morpeth against future transport cuts for schools in Northumberland
 

However critics who fought the new charges - of up to £600 per pupil per year - questioned the findings, with claims the Labour run authority has failed to take into account the fact young people are now required by law to go into post-16 education and that the policy has not succeeded in encouraging more students to stay in the county.

Alnwick mum Nadine Mallaburn said: “To demonstrate that there has been no significant fall in take up of 16-18 education is misleading. Of course there’s no fall. They have to be in education. So how would the numbers fall?

“The percentage falling into the NEETs category may well have reduced by one percent so far. But again only because they have to be in education.”

Councillor Peter Jackson, leader of the authority’s main Conservative opposition group, added: “There has not been really a distinct shift in the colleges that our post-16 students are attending.

Angry parents gather outside Duchess High School in Alnwick to protest about transport changes
Angry parents gather outside Duchess High School in Alnwick to protest about transport changes
 

“It has not had its intended consequence of limiting the number of students going out of the county.

“Therefore it proves that it is simply a tax on post-16 students.”

In introducing the fees the council blamed multi-million pound Government cuts.

But the charges sparked anger among parents and Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians, with claims that it was penalising young people in rural areas.

The report says that the savings are expected to reach £2.4m a year but that this will not be felt until 2016/17 due to the fact that students already at college when the policy was introduced continue to receive free transport.

It says 313 passes have been issued free of charge to post-16 students and that 183 students have opted to purchase passes for use on council contracted services.

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