Opinion: Post 16 transport: It’s time to change the law to enable everyone to get on in life

Ear buds 'n' earsFor many 16 year olds across the country the post-exam, pre-result time in the summer should be a time of freedom, working a summer job to save some money or hanging out with friends and family, sure in the knowledge that come September they will be on track to take the next steps in life.

Northumberland’s young people are facing uncertainty this summer. The previous Liberal Democrat administration at County Hall had guaranteed the right of free post-16 transport to the most suitable accessible course. This has been taken away this summer by the new Labour administration.

Labour have refused to listen to the overwhelming support for maintaining the Liberal Democrat free transport scheme – petition, consultations, letters, questions raised in parliament, demonstrations, a special four hour council meeting.

Not only do I and many more parents, pupils, education professionals and residents object in principle. The implementation of a new scheme of charging in Northumberland is pure madness and a right mess. In many rural areas school buses take catchment area pupils to their middle/high school – but a sixth former has no right to use this bus if for their part of the route there is a commercial bus service – older siblings will be paying bus companies while there are empty seats on the school bus. I could go on….

In the eighties, being a rural Northumbrian kid, I used to get the school bus to Ponteland, and just stayed on it for sixth form. Those wanting to go to college had to find their own way. Raising the age of participation and encouraging parity between a sixth form and a college education can only be a positive step for the opportunities and career and life choices for our young people.

If we are not to discriminate between 16-18 year olds in urban and rural areas across the whole country we must guarantee their rights to access free state education – and free transport is an integral part of that access.

So let’s be about action not just words – lets change the law and actually enable everyone to get on in life.

As usual, any Federal Conference Representative can sign up to this motion by emailing their name, local party and membership number to me at [email protected] (by Tuesday night (15 July).

For those who think they might have read about this before, I tried to submit an emergency motion in March.

Well now its a real emergency for parents and their 16 year olds.

Young people’s travel scheme to access school, college and work

Conference notes that:

a.Young people are now in education or training until age 18.

b.No statutory obligation was placed on local authorities to pay for school or college transport post-16.

c.Many councils are charging substantial amounts for post-16 transport.

d.The cost of public transport for young people varies significantly across the country.

Conference believes:

i.State education from reception through to 18 should be free to access and in remote and 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 post-16 education 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.

v.The cost of public transport can be a barrier to education, apprenticeship and work opportunities for young people.

vi.Increased access for young people to low cost public transport will increase the long term use of public transport.

Conference welcomes:

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

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

III.The commitment of businesses and organisations to offer opportunities to young people through apprenticeships.

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

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

Conference calls for:

1.The 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 Government to introduce a young people’s bus pass guaranteeing 2/3 discount on bus travel for those aged 16-21, or older if in full-time apprenticeship.

3.The Government to meet any additional financing of local authorities that will be required to meet this statutory requirement.

PS please help with our by-election (24 july) to get Kate Cairns (road safety campaigner) virtual phone bank code – 7C4ADC – 4036 – even speaking to 20 voters on the phone could make the difference in getting another strong voice on our council group.

Photo by Justin Scott Campbell

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

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  • Richard Dean 14th Jul '14 - 4:04pm

    Here’s a familiar objection: “Free” isn’t free, it’s paid for by someone. Why should the general taxpayer carry this additional burden? Many of those young people who would benefit from this would probably be able to pay without too much trouble.

  • Charles Rothwell 14th Jul '14 - 4:32pm

    Richard: The key words in the article as I read them are: “The previous Liberal Democrat administration at County Hall had guaranteed the right of free post-16 transport to the most suitable accessible course.” (cf. “the most suitable accessible course”). Northumberland is huge an I can well imagine there are many families who just do not have the means to pay for their 16-18 year olds to travel far to attend courses which will equip them better for their careers and as future employees/tax payers/employers. I can see an argument for means-testing but would fully support the notion of providing funding for travel costs where needed. What I am totally opposed to is 11-18 schools just clinging on to pupils at 16 to make up their numbers for Sixth Forms where the pupils feel unhappy and are desperate to study something else (e.g. more vocationally oriented) in an FE College or elsewhere.

  • I want to see the manifest injustice of requiring young people to stay at school/college/training while stopping school transport support at 16.

    This motion needs to be made more explicit and the money from central government must be based on money spent, not just by some formula. Counties like Cumbria have few scheduled bus services in rural areas and long distances to transport small numbers of pupils / students. We don’t have spare cash to pay for it (or anything elses for that matter).

    Unless grant is based on money spent we’ll see it absorbed into general grant and then lost altogether.

  • Correction:
    “I want to see *an end to* the manifest injustice of requiring young people to stay at school/college/training while stopping school transport support at 16.”

    P.S. Is there a way to correct a blog posting?

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Jul '14 - 7:25pm

    LDV team – I fully endorse Stan’s call for contributors to be able to correct posts. The technology exists on similar sites. Even if we had a limited window, say 5 minutes or even to add the correction as a postscript at the end of the same post. This is a long overdue improvement.

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Jul '14 - 7:41pm

    Am I the only Lib Dem to cringe every time ” to enable everyone to get on in life” appears? The headline detracts from the otherwise worthwhile article.

    Similarly “hard working families”, “anchoring the government in the centre ground”, “alarm clock Britain” and “Stronger economy, fairer society”.

  • Steve Griffiths 14th Jul '14 - 8:30pm

    Stephen Hesketh
    “Am I the only Lib Dem to cringe every time ” to enable everyone to get on in life” appears? ”

    No you are not: it’s awful. Any one of all the party leaders could be heard saying it and claiming that their policies would lead to everyone getting on in life. Which of the advisors came up with that one?

  • Julie Porksen 15th Jul '14 - 7:52am

    Richard – this is an equality issue, the taxpayer finances free travel in other areas, am happy to direct you to evidence on costs and impact on families if you wish

    Charles agreed, vocational should be accessible, and our Council (not schools) admit they want to cling on to our young people rather than help them do the right course for them.

    Stan – if you think it needs to be made more explicit please support and put in an amendment

    Stephen and Steve – your reaction to that slogan is why I used it – if those who wrote it believe in its message they should support this motion

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Jul '14 - 6:49pm

    Hi Julie
    Thank you for the explanation … I agree with your sentiments!

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