“The local school bus is to be replaced by the grammar school Uber"
Chancellor’s plan to provide transport to selective schools for children on free school meals could cost up to £5,000 per pupil
The government says it will invest £5m a year to help the poorest pupils reach grammar schools.
New grammar school pupils could be ferried up to 15 miles by cars to their schools, at a cost of up to £5,000 per pupil every year, despite cuts to last year’s general school transport budget for disabled and disadvantaged pupils.
£5m a year to fund transport for the poorest pupils to reach grammar schools
The government has said it would invest £5m a year to fund transport for the poorest pupils to reach grammar schools so costs were not a barrier to a selective education for pupils who received free school meals or whose parents claimed maximum working tax credits
About 1,000-1,500 pupils are estimated to require the funding, meaning that the cost per pupil could be as high as £5,000 if minicabs were used. The government is expected to spend £20m on the transport over the parliament.
“We recognise that for many parents the cost of travel can be a barrier to exercising that choice,” the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said in his budget speech.
“Pupils typically travel three times as far to attend selective schools, so we will extend free school transport to include all children on free school meals who attend a selective school because we are resolved that talent alone should determine the opportunities a child enjoys.”
The high costs have been criticised by Labour because the grant that supports local councils to provide transport to all schools for disadvantaged and disabled pupils, normally by more cost-efficient buses, has been cut by £7m a year from 2016-17.
On Friday, the local government ombudsman announced it had received a 63% increase in referrals of serious cases relating to school transport in 2015-16, a total of 261 complaints and inquiries about school transport compared with just 160 in the previous year.
In one case, a teenager with severe autism who lost his transport allowance was told he must walk a mile to school along an unlit footpath to catch a bus and then a train.
In another case, a recently widowed mother appealed against the council’s decision to fund only her middle daughter’s school transport because of the crucial stage she was at in her education.
Funding was denied for the other children despite the mother’s pleas that a recent family tragedy meant the three should be kept together and notforced to move schools.
The ombudsman, Michael King, said there was no evidence the panel had looked at whether there were exceptional circumstances under which it could consider exercising discretion.
Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “The local school bus is now being replaced by the grammar school Uber. But when they are breaking their promise to protect school funding and heads are facing the worst cuts in a generation, it’s unbelievable that they think ‘cash for minicabs’ is a good use of money.”
Rayner said the transport came at a cost to other pupils. “While we’re paying taxes for minicabs, disabled teenagers are being left to fend for themselves and other kids are forced to change school for lack of transport,” she said.
“If this idea is the best that [education secretary] Justine Greening can come up with then she’s the one who should be getting a taxi for one.”