Bus subsidy cut condemned as '˜attack on faith education'

St Christopher's High School, AccringtonSt Christopher's High School, Accrington
St Christopher's High School, Accrington
A vicar and parent has hit out at Lancashire County Council plans to remove bus subsidies for faith schools.

The Rev. Alex Frost, curate at St Matthew’s Church, Burnley, said the plans would place a significant financial burden on local families, and described the move as “an attack on faith education”.

Lancashire County Council is consulting on scrapping ‘discretionary support’ subsidies for pupils who attend a faith school which is not the nearest school to their home, from September.

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Under the plans pupils who use the service, as well as children starting school in September, will no longer receive any assistance from this date unless they are from “low income” families.

Mr Frost, whose 13-year-old daughter attends St Christopher’s High School, Accrington, said: “The county council states financial constraints as the main reason but this is clearly an attack on faith education as well as putting individuals under significant financial burden. This proposal is for all of Lancashire.

“For many Christians in Burnley and Pendle, St Christopher’s Accrington is the nearest Church of England High School but unfortunately is some considerable distance to travel.

“Families like myself already pay more than £500 in bus fees per child to send them to a faith school which is also state funded. The removal of any subsidies are almost certain to cost families more travel expense.”

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The county council decision comes as the authority seeks to make massive savings following unprecedented central government cuts.

Mr Frost added: “I deeply oppose this move by the council on a number of levels. Firstly, family choices could be affected because of financial constraints forcing children to attend schools that may not have the same Christian ethos as St Christopher’s not to mention the opportunity to attend a ‘outstanding’ high school.

“Secondly, I worry this is a political move to ‘fill’ empty spaces throughout the county in schools that are failing to reach viable intake requirements.”

County Coun. Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “Unfortunately we’ve had no choice but to propose cutting a number of services that people value, because the council simply can’t afford to deliver them anymore.

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“The provision of discretionary denominational transport is one of these services. I know no one wants to either lose free transport or pay more for it, but unfortunately we are in the position of having to take these difficult decisions.

“We’ve continued to provide this subsidy for as long as we could, even though this provision hasn’t been available for children attending non-faith schools. The proposed change will mean all schools are treated equally.

“We know some parents will need to pay more, but Lancashire is one of the last authorities in the country to remove this subsidy, which councils are not legally required to provide. It will apply across Lancashire.

“We’re currently asking parents and other interested parties to tell us how they might be affected by this change. This is open until April 10th.

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Parents applying for school places for their children were first made aware of this proposal when they expressed their preferences in October last year. We have also consulted with all primary schools.”