The County You Live, Work And Play
SLC Ready To Decide
South Lanarkshire Council are set to press ahead with plans to cut the distance at which secondary pupils qualify for free transport.
But the council are likely to revise their initial proposal, with kids entitled to free school meals and living more than two miles away still being eligible.
Implementation of the plan is also set to be postponed until April next year.
Councillors on the executive committee will meet soon to discuss the results of a consultation into the proposed change from two miles to the statutory three miles.
The SNP Group have said they will vote against the proposals, but it seems likely it will get the go ahead.
Opposition to the plan has been heavy, with 94 per cent of over 1800 representations not agreeing with the proposal.
However, in a report to councillors, officers advise: “In reaching an overall view of the proposal, consideration was given to the fact that many did not support it, but this was weighed against the need to make financial savings, the protection already afforded to education, the fact that the current provision goes further than the Council’s statutory responsibility and the view of Education Scotland which did not comment about any potential impact on attainment.”
On the advice of Education Scotland, officers have suggested postponing the implementation from September 29 until April 18, 2016.
Allowing kids on free school meals to keep being bussed for free would bring the number of pupils affected down to 1650 across the council. That would leave 2750 children still eligible.
The council initially thought the proposal could save them £1m per school year, but have cut their projection to £800,000.
However, many parents remain upset at the prospect of their kids having to walk or take public transport to school.
Jackie Rinn, who set up a sub-committee of Halfway Community Council to deal with the issue, blasted the report , saying the council were “discriminating against working people.”
Her daughter, Ashley (12), started at Stonelaw earlier this month, but she has consistently said she won’t send her to school if their free transport is cut.
She added: “I think it’s a disgrace, people who are working are paying for other kids to be bussed to school.
“This is about equal opportunities and all kids should be treated the same.
“This was about transport and safety, not money. We’ve been told the safe walking routes but still haven’t been shown the safety assessments used to come up with them. The council are dividing communities.”
Cambuslang East Councillor Christine Deanie said she was “incandescent with anger” at the proposal. She added: “The big issue is how divisive this is. You’ll have kids who are entitled to free school meals going past in half empty buses.”
Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP, Margaret Ferrier also questioned the safe walking routes being proposed, specifically crossing Greenlees Road, as a decision on the proposal looms.
She said: “South Lanarkshire Council are rushing ahead with their plans with complete disregard for the safety of our schoolchildren. Seeing this stretch of road, and trying to cross it myself, makes it clear that this is an accident waiting to happen.
“I’m calling on South Lanarkshire Council to take action. This is not a safe walking route for adults, let alone children. This route needs to be reviewed and appropriate action needs to be taken before the council consider asking parents to allow their children to walk it.”
South Lanarkshire Council’s head of education said he understands parents’ concerns on the school bus issue, but he insists the council can no longer afford their current policy.
Ahead of a meeting, Jim Gilhooly, said: “The council understands the proposals mean some parents will need to change the way they fulfil their responsibility to get their children to and from school.
“Proposals being put to Executive Committee councillors for consideration on August 26 reflect concerns raised by parents at consultation sessions undertaken in line with statutory requirements.
“Amendments to transport proposals approved by the council in February now seek to delay the implementation date until April 18, 2016.
“It is further proposed all secondary pupils entitled to free school meals who live more than two miles from their school can access free school transport.
“By seeking to move to providing free secondary school transport after three miles, we would be in line with 19 other local authorities in Scotland who have already adopted this statutory limit.
“If the new three miles statutory limit is approved, we will learn from the experiences of these councils.
“The council has significant savings to make, meaning that there are difficult decisions to take. As such, these proposals have not been made lightly.
“The council remains of the view it can no longer afford to provide secondary school mainstream transport at a level that is more generous than required under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”