As outlined previously, we have been clear that we are completely opposed to Suffolk County Council’s proposed changes to home to school transport, with there being little evidence that, under Options 1 or 2, there will be any significant savings, but will almost certainly cause significant damage to Suffolk’s education system.
But neither are we satisfied with Option 3, a ‘just do nothing’ approach. We understand the financial constraints that local government is under and, regardless, we believe we should always be proactively looking for ways to make all provision as efficient as possible in order to deliver the very best services to all the people of Suffolk.
This is why we are backing ‘Option 4’, an alternative proposed by Thurston Community College after undertaking extensive research.
Option 4 would;
- Save more money than the County Council’s proposal, with a total estimated saving of £235,000 in the Thurston catchment alone;
- Maintain choice and opportunities for rural children and their families;
- Continue to support established, successful schools;
- Uphold Suffolk’s aspirations to be “The Greenest County” and to “Raise the Bar” on education attainment.
Thurston CC believe this could be achieved by keeping the existing home-to-school travel policy but supplementing it with truly local solutions including; double tripping, late bus services, coordinating afternoon services with Ixworth Free School and general efficiency savings.
They are honest about the fact that there may be some implications such as additional staffing costs and a longer journey time for some students, but this is considered to be a reasonable compromise.
Thurston’s research is more credible than anything the Council has yet put forward as it assumes a truly localised solution rather than trying to shoehorn in a one-size-fits-all policy. It offers a solution that will almost certainly save more money than the current policy (just in Thurston alone, never mind if this was rolled out across the County). Admittedly, Thurston’s catchment area has the potential to make the most savings through local solutions, but, there are other rural schools in Suffolk equally willing to improve the efficiency of their existing transport infrastructure. Savings could be made in all of these catchment areas, without changing the current policy.
‘Option 4’ will secure the futures of pupils and staff alike, keep hundreds of cars off our roads and offer a flexible, practical long-term approach to home to school transport.
Why then does the Council continue with a consultation that has costs approaching £30,000 (this is without even taking into consideration the exhaustive resources needed to properly assess and review each of the near 3,000 responses to the consultation)?
All the evidence is telling the Council that their proposals will generate little in the way of savings, but could start a domino effect that will prove damaging for pupils, their families, their schools and, indeed, Suffolk as a whole.
The message is clear. The arbitrary, one-size-fits all ‘Options’ currently on the table are not suitable or workable. ‘Option 4’ has been presented as an alternative that surely satisfies all parties; it will save money for the Council whilst protecting the education of Suffolk’s pupils.
It is this solution that the Council should proactively take advantage of.
To do anything else would be irresponsible and flawed.