(Mr. B. L. Pain CC, having declared a personal interest in the matter, left the meeting whilst this item was considered).
The Cabinet considered a joint report of the Director of Environment and Transport, Director of Children and Families, and County Solicitor regarding the implementation of a new Mainstream Home to School Transport Policy. A copy of the report marked ‘5’ is filed with these minutes. An extract from the minutes of the Scrutiny Commission meeting on 11 July and comments from the Liberal Democrat Group were circulated separately and copies are also filed with these minutes.
Mr. Osborne CC said that it was complex issue, not always easily understood. With regard to the comments submitted by the Liberal Democrat Group, he said that a new transport policy was required because of the Coalition Government’s decision to create more Academy schools. Mr. Osborne said that a number of changes had been made following the two consultation exercises to try to accommodate concerns, and he was pleased that it acknowledged that the proposals represented the best possible outcome given the circumstances. He welcomed the support of the Scrutiny Commission and said that the new policy would provide clarity for parents and give equal treatment to all schools and academies in the County.
Mr. Ould CC said he was pleased that it had been possible to amend the draft policy to refer to the ‘nearest appropriate Leicestershire school’. He said that a number of misleading comments had been made and he wished to clarify that -
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>The first wave of schools which had converted to academies had received additional funds from the Education Funding Agency to facilitate this, creating disparities and enabling some to fund their own transport. This extra funding would not be repeated.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>It had never been County Council policy to encourage schools to convert to academies. The DfE had provided information for schools wishing to do so and the Council advised/assisted only if asked by head teachers to help.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Uncoordinated age-range changes were a consequence of the Coalition Government’s education policy which left it to market forces to determine the viability of schools/academies. The County Council had no control over this; academies were not required to consult with the local authority.
(a) That the comments of the Scrutiny Commission be noted;
(b) That the responses to the two public consultations on proposed changes to the mainstream Home to School Transport Policy and the associated Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment be noted;
(c) That the proposals set out in the revised consultation exercise (attached as Appendix E to the report) be approved, namely:
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>for pupils of compulsory school age, i.e. those aged between 5 and 16 years, to provide free transport where the distance between the pupil’s home address and the nearest appropriate school (or educational placement) with available spaces exceeds the statutory walking distances of 2 miles for primary age children and 3 miles for secondary age children (a school will not be seen as appropriate if it does not offer a transfer entry point that is compatible with the current school attended by the pupil),
and in addition
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>to provide an alternative offer of free transport to the nearest appropriate Leicestershire school over the statutory walking distances with places available (a school will not be seen as appropriate if it does not offer a transfer entry point that is compatible with the current school attended by the pupil),
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>where there have been no changes to admission catchment areas or age ranges for admission since May 2012 to continue to offer free transport to the catchment area schools in those areas,
and that the County Council’s mainstream Home to School Transport Policy be amended accordingly;
(d) That the proposed annual contribution (charge) for transport assistance for Post-16 Transport be approved;
(e) That the transitional arrangements suggested in the consultation exercise and detailed in paragraphs 57 to 58 of the report be approved, i.e. that existing transport arrangements are honoured for students part-way through their education until they leave and that the new policy applies to new pupils or those transferring from a primary to a secondary school or between high and upper secondary schools from September 2015.
REASON FOR DECISION:
The first consultation exercise was held between January and March 2014 and resulted in a considerable negative response from both the public and schools (88% disagreed) to the proposals to move to a ‘nearest school only’ policy. The key concerns raised in the initial consultation were:
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the educational impact of transfer at aged 10+ (year 6) from some primary schools and the potential educational impact of transfer at 14 (year 9) to an 11-16 or 11-19 school;
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the desire to retain existing school links and the expectation that as a taxpayer in Leicestershire the County Council should provide transport to a Leicestershire school.
In considering the first consultation outcomes, the Cabinet on 1st April 2014, resolved to consult further on a wider range of options between April and June 2014.
The consultations arose from the need to address potential future budget pressures and the impact of schools moving to academy status and/or changing their age ranges or admission catchment areas and together with the EHRIA inform the recommendations to the Cabinet.
(Mr. Pain CC then returned to the meeting).