Council delays school transport cuts

The authority recently contacted around 160 parents of children with special education needs, aged between 16 and 19, to say it was no longer providing all school transport for free.

Currently those children are picked up from home and dropped off after school with the costs met by the authority.  Parents were informed of the changes via letter which was sent out last week. 

That letter also informed parents that a down payment of three months transport would have to be paid by the middle of August, even though the schools were not going back until September.  It did also state that some parents would be able to get their transport at a reduced rate and some would continue to have it paid for in full and that there was an appeals process.

But the way the news was communicated shocked many parents, teachers, governors and charities.  Hazel Howe, from Irchester, was told the authority would now charge her around £400 a month to take her son, Thomas, to Greenfields School.  

Hazel told Heart: “Northamptonshire County Council have got to be embarrassed and ashamed of what they’ve done.  They’ve targeted the vulnerable and made these decisions without consulting the parents - I’m absolutely furious.”  She since orchestrated a high-profile campaign and instructed a firm of solicitors to challenge the decision, claiming her son's Special Needs Statement [a document drawn up between the authority, school and parent] is a legal document which has not been amended. 

Today [Tuesday] Northamptonshire County Council decided to defer the start of the revised post-16 transport policy until January 2011 - saying it followed the strong feeling generated by the proposed change, and that a fuller consultation was required with those affected to fully understand the impact such changes may have.

Cllr Heather Smith, county council cabinet member for transport, minerals and waste, said: “The strength of feeling to the proposed changes has been listened to and we have decided to extend the period of consultation to fully understand and assess the impact that the proposed changes will have on individuals concerned.

“The findings of this extended consultation period will be reported back to cabinet for further consideration.”

Earlier this year the authority took the decision to revise its arrangements for special educational needs transport for Post 16s saying there was no statutory obligation for them to provide it for free.  They currently overspend their budget in this area by £460,000 and say the new system will be more cost-effective and fairer.

Hazel Howe sez she’s been contacted by dozens of concerned parents, governors, carers and teachers since the letters were sent out and is now planning a protest march against the policy.

Hazel wants to hear from anyone who feels they’re being unfairly treated by the County Council asking people to contact her via Heart, by email or by phone 01604 795690.

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