Opinion: Extending participation in education must mean extension of free school transport – support motion to Spring Conference NOW

The age of participation in education is rising to 18, so soon every student will have to enter school, college, an apprenticeship or work with training when they finish their GCSEs.

I believe that every young person has the right to access free state education up to year 13. Accessing free education should include the provision of free transport to the most local educational establishment that is right for them.

Last week Nick Clegg was reported on on this site as saying that he would promise young people “ an equal shot” by helping them to make the right choice after taking their GCSEs.”

This “equal shot” must include free transport.

Take the case of a young person living within a safe walking or cycling distance of the school where they did their GCSEs. The most accessible college where they really want to do their vocational course is a bus ride (or in the case of Berwick and other areas, a train ride) away. With current trends for Local Authorities to charge huge fees for post-16 transport, this put up barriers and “an equal shot” in making the right choice for them does not exist. And why should a young person and their family living in a rural area be charged to go to school after GCSEs because they have to get the bus to their nearest school? They have no choice.

The Government should support young people by providing funds for post-16 transport and ensure Local Authorities provide free transport to the most local educational establishment that is right for them.

The case for free transport was highlighted in Baroness Diana Maddock’s comments to Baroness Lindsay Northover in the Lords this week, in response to Lord Mike Storey’s question on post-16 transport:

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend, when looking at the review she talked about, could look at what has happened in north Northumberland. When the Liberal Democrats took over the council, they instigated free transport for those aged over 16. We have a very low level of take-up of further and higher education in this part of the country and I hope she will look at this because it increased the numbers of students who took up further education. I hope that, like me, she is rather concerned that now the council is being run by Labour, it is proposing to do away with this.

This is urgent – while the talk and reviews go on today’s students will not be able to seek the educational opportunities that are right for them.

In the light of new and increased charges for post-16 transport being considered and implemented by Local Authorities for September 2014, the emergency motion detailed below is being put to Spring Conference.

Please email me at [email protected] with your name, local party and membership number if you wish to support its submission as soon as possible. I would be interested in hearing about what is happening with post-16 transport in your local area and whether you have any local schemes which make bus transport more accessible for young people (see last line of motion).

 Securing Free Post-16 Transport to School and College

Conference notes that:

a) The age of participation is rising to 18 with students required to attend school, college, an apprenticeship or work with training.

b) No statutory obligation was placed on local authorities to pay for school or college transport beyond year 11.

c) Many councils are proposing introduce new charges or to increase existing charges for post-16 transport from September 2014.

Conference believes:

i) Access to state education from reception to year 13 should be free and in rural areas where walking or cycling is not a practical option due to distance and/or safety transport is an integral component of access.

ii) Accessing appropriate education between the ages of 16 and 18 should not be dependent on a young person’s or their parents’ ability to pay for transport.

iii) Charging for school and college transport discriminates against those who do not live within walking or cycling distance of a school or college which offers the right course for them.

iv) Charging for post-16 transport will lead to some young people opting out of education, choosing courses being on the basis of cost of transport rather than educational benefit, financial hardship for families, and increased use of private vehicles.

Conference welcomes:

I) The opportunities provided for young people in increasing the age of participation.

II) The response of schools and colleges in providing more educational opportunities for young people.

III) The sacrifices made by families to pay for post-16 transport where local authorities are already charging.

IV) The ambition and commitment of young people in seeking the right education which gives them the opportunities they want in life.

Conference calls for:

1) The Coalition Government to introduce a statutory requirement on local authorities to provide free transport to the most appropriate local school or college up to the end of the academic year in which a student turns 18.

2) The Coalition Government to meet any additional financing of education services of local authorities that will be required to meet this statutory requirement.

3) The Liberal Democrats to urgently develop and implement a scheme to reduce the cost of public transport for apprentices and for young people up to the age of 24.

* Julie Pörksen is the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Berwick Upon Tweed

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  • Where I live in rural North Yorkshire the council were proposing to increase the post 16 transport from £360 a year to £480 in order to cut the funding. All of the Lib Dem and Tory councillors were in favour of the increase with some of the Independants, UKIP and Liberals against. The council say that they don’t have the funds for the additional bus service which would be fair enough if the bus service was indeed additional but it is not. The post 16 students use the same buses as the under 16s and in our case also share with the local Primary school. The post 16 are funding the unders!
    There is not a safe/practical cycle/ walk some children live 25 miles from their nearest school/college and the roads are not for the faint hearted. We have no street lights, pavements and only limited verges along with multiple blind corners. The hills are massive hence why the Tour de France has come to Yorkshire. We only have a limited bus service so it’s the school bus or no bus.

  • A Social Liberal 3rd Mar '14 - 3:25pm

    Sorry Sophie, but I think you are wrong about all the Lib Dems voted for the increase. I didn’t specifically ask her but given that Polly English said this

    “Coun Polly English told Craven’s Area Committee that about 110 children opted to go to Upper Wharfedale from Skipton and Gargrave, and if the service was withdrawn many families would not be able to afford travel costs and the viability of the school could be threatened.”

    I don’t think that she would have voted in favour

  • Daniel Henry 4th Mar '14 - 12:15pm

    @ Caracatus
    The motion is designed to address the fact that 16-18 year olds will be legally required to attend an FE college, but may have no means to get there, especially if they live in rural areas, or if their chosen course is only provided by a college located at a great distance away.

    It tries to address this contradiction by extending the deal we currently offer to primary and secondary school students (free transport to schools outside a “walking distance” of 3 miles) to Post 16 education too, when it becomes compulsory.

    Funding will be required because Councils are already being cut to the bone and won’t have the money for projects like these.

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