Thrapston parents call for bus fee exemption for town’s Oundle pupils after ‘unfair’ council decision
and live on Freeview channel 276
Parents in Thrapston have called on North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) to grant the town’s secondary school age children an exemption from an ‘unfair’ proposed bus fee policy.
In July, members of NNC’s Conservative executive committee agreed a new ‘Home to School Transport’ policy that would see the council fund school buses for secondary school students to their nearest suitable school, but not ‘linked’ schools.
Under the new policy, parents in Thrapston selecting Prince William School in Oundle for their child would have to pay £760 for the school bus from September 2024 – a bus that is currently free.
Most Thrapston and Islip students have attended the linked Prince William School – a connection dating back decades.
Thrapston Primary School parent representatives Hayley Douglas and Daniel Burton raised the issue at an extraordinary meeting of Thrapston Town Council on Monday (October 9).
Ms Douglas said: "When the middle school system was abolished and the town lost King John School in 2015, it was decided against Thrapston having its own secondary school in order to safeguard the continued viability of Prince William School. But now we face having to pay for our children to travel to Prince William.
"It is disproportionately unfair on parents here and is causing huge concerns, particularly with the current cost of living crisis. And the lack of official communication from the council (NNC) about it has been shocking when it has such a significant impact on parents."
The parents say that the new policy is effectively ‘ripping up’ a decades-long linked school arrangement.
Mr Burton said: “Time is ticking for us to select schools for our current Year 6 children, applications close in two weeks and no-one will give us any guarantees that we won't be charged if we choose Prince William School.
"How can we make informed decisions about our children's future education when we don't have all the information we need to make that choice? Whether we need to find £760 a year to fund our choice of school is a significant factor for many parents. The situation is unacceptable. We face playing the system to put down a school we don't want in the hope it is full and we are allocated the school we do want as we'd then get the bus for free. No-one wants to play games and gamble with their child's education.
"This is all being done to save money, but we cannot see how it is going to save the council any money in Thrapston as it is going to have to fund a bus for all students in the town, whichever of the two schools students attend. It will be an administrative and costly process to change the admissions system so our message is simple, just leave things as they are."
In July, the Home to School Transport - Policy Revisions for Statutory School Age Pupils’ – was reviewed by NNC’s executive. They approved the changes for discretionary seats for all new applications for transport for September 2024 onwards. They proposed that discretionary seats would only be available on a ‘first-come-first-served basis’ using any spare capacity on transport arranged for pupils eligible for free transport. This would apply to existing passengers as well as new applicants.
Cllr Jim Hakewill (Ind, Rothwell and Mawsley) spoke at the meeting requesting additional scrutiny of the matter and a delay in implementation to 2025. Cllr Lyn Buckingham (Lab, Lloyds) raised serious concerns about the report and the consultation process.
Under the new fees parents in Thrapston and Islip who choose Prince William could pay at least £3,800 in transport fees just to get children to the end of their GCSE year.
More than 50 parents attended Monday’s extraordinary meeting to voice their opposition to the changes and concerns over the lack of scrutiny of the policy’s implications that they discovered ‘by chance’.
As well as the cost, parents’ concerns include the potential for siblings being split between Manor School in Raunds and Prince William School, the ‘lack of communication’ to Thrapston Primary School and Prince William School of the impending ‘monumental’ changes, and the environmental impact of increased traffic on the A605.
Following the meeting, Thrapston Town Council started a petition to ask for NNC to make special arrangements outside of their adopted policy to ‘duplicate the current provision for home to school transport’ for Thrapston and Islip children.
The petition has received more than 1,000 signatures in the first 36 hours. Click here for the petition.
Cllr Matt Binley (Con), NNC’s executive member for highways, travel and assets, said: “We held a full consultation on changes to the policy for home to school transport, which will be implemented from September 2024 and only affect applications from new students going forward.
“We are aware of the concerns which some parents have raised and will be meeting with the local councillors and the MP for that area to see what mitigations might be possible.”