Northumberland County Council is working closely with schools, colleges and bus companies to ensure students can continue to access a wide range of Post-16 educational opportunities.
This follows the decision to introduce a new policy that will end free school transport for post 16 students from this September.
It has this week written to parents to inform them of a range of measures which aim to help students access post-16 education.
Officers are working with schools to target their bursary funds to students in financial hardship who don’t qualify for financial support from the council.
In some circumstances where appropriate public transport will not be available, particularly in rural areas, the authority will continue to provide school transport through existing contracts. The council will have to charge students for places on these services and this charge will be £600 per year, which equates to £3 a day.
In some locations schools are working with the council to purchase existing spaces on these services for their students. Parents and students have been advised to talk to their school about their proposed approach.
Discussions have taken place with Arriva, the County’s principal supplier of local bus services and the company has agreed to introduce a new range of student travel tickets which will offer students good value for money travel along with flexible payment options and the facility to travel at any time of the day during the Academic Year.
The travel passes will offer students travel within a particular zone or between zones. There are a number of zones and each zone will represent a particular geographical area, such as Blyth Valley or Morpeth. The costs will range from £430 a year for a one zone pass; £530 a year for a two zone pass and £660 for a three zones or more pass, which will cover all of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside.
The council has worked closely with Arriva to ensure that for the vast majority of students the purchase of a one zone pass will be sufficient to enable them to travel to and from their local high school. The purchase of two or three zone tickets will be required if longer distance travel is undertaken. The tickets can be used anytime during the academic year.
Arriva is working on direct debit facilities for annual ticket purchases which will enable families to buy these zonal tickets at the prices quoted without the need to make one big payment. Further details will be available shortly on both the Northumberland County Council and Arriva’s website.
The council is in discussion with other bus companies to ensure they also offer students good value travel tickets to and from their local school or college.
For students who wish to pursue vocational courses that are not available at their local school, Northumberland College is putting in place the following transport facilities:
A free bus service between Berwick and Northumberland College in Ashington, this service will also stop at key locations such as Alnwick.
The current Morpeth to Ashington Campus bus service will be retained.
An additional service to its Kirkley Hall campus. Parents and students should contact the college directly for further details.
The college has recently been judged by Ofsted as Good and they are ranked fourth nationally for the quality of their Post-16 provision.
Whilst a decision was made to remove the current free post 16 student travel scheme the council listened to concerns raised during the consultation process and the following exemptions were included:
Existing students who are already receiving free transport to a Sixth Form or Further Education College will continue to do so. There will be no change to their travel arrangements
Students with a statement of special educational need (SEN)
Students from low-income families – defined as those who would qualify for a free school meal.
This will mean that nearly 1 in 5 of all students will continue to be able to travel free of charge. Protecting these two key groups will continue to cost the Council in the region of £900,000 a year.
Councilor Ian Swithenbank, policy board member for streetcare and environment said: “While we believe these changes in policy are necessary we understand the concerns families in the county. We are working with education and transport providers to make sure student can continue to access post-16 educational opportunities.”
Information on the new policy and how to apply for post 16 transport for this September can be found at http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/STpolicy