Stoke & Staffordshire

Free faith school travel in Staffordshire scrapped

Plans to phase out free travel to faith schools in Staffordshire have been approved by county council leaders.

A public consultation about the proposals, mainly affecting Catholic pupils, started in April.

The council currently gives pupils free transport to 29 Catholic schools in the county, plus one in Wolverhampton.

The phasing out of the subsidy will start with children attending a new school next September and be completely scrapped by 2017, the council said.

Original plans included stopping funding for all children in 2012, which was subsequently dropped.

Cabinet members met earlier to meet to discuss the plans, which were recommended for approval last week.

Ian Parry, deputy leader of the council, said: "The initial proposals provoked a robust debate among parents and schools, the two main themes being discrimination and fairness.

"It cannot be accepted that withdrawing free transport enjoyed almost exclusively by Catholic children is discriminatory, as it is a privilege enjoyed by no other groups.

"The county council has listened and responded; fairness is our primary concern."

'Climb down'

Hannah Weaver, a religious studies teacher at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Technology College in Aldridge, started a Facebook group with 227 members called "Keep transport to St. Francis free for Staffordshire Children".

She said: "There was a bit of a climb down by the council because they have now agreed that pupils who are due to start in September and who are currently in receipt of free school transport will not be affected.

"That's a small victory for campaigners but it is obviously very disappointing for anyone else.

"We hope and pray that parents will have the means and wherewithal to be able to give their children a Catholic education if they so wish and that finance isn't a barrier to that."

Similar school transport plans are being considered in Stoke-on-Trent in a bid to save money in light of government cuts.

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