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Post-16 campaigner raises Berwick concerns

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Northumberland County Council is currently consulting on changes to the current system of free transport for school and college for 16-18 year old students.

Liberal Democrat campaigner Julie Pörksen warns that the consultation specifically asks about cutting travel for students travelling from Berwick to Newcastle.

Julie attended Berwick Town Council’s meeting on Monday night to ask councillors to look at the discrimination Berwick students would be faced with should the option to remove train passes to Newcastle be chosen.

Commenting after the meeting, Julie said: “I cannot believe the Labour Council wish to discriminate against Berwick students and not enable them to go to college in Newcastle.

“It is a real sign that the focus of the council is on south east Northumberland and they don’t care about people in the north of the county. They know last time student rail travel was withdrawn from Berwick students the numbers fell to almost zero.

“Coun Swithenbank has been reported as saying 3,600 students get free travel and costs have risen. I see this as an amazing success of the Lib Dem Council’s policy which aimed to ensure students could access the course that was right for them. We should celebrate the fact that so many young Northumbrians have chosen to stay on at school or go to college, even before it becomes compulsory.

“I believe the council should stick with the status quo, which enables students in the Berwick area to attend the course that is right for them and travel for free to Berwick Academy on the school bus, to travel to Northumberland College or to travel to Newcastle College on the train.

“I hope as many young people, parents, teachers, and anyone else concerned about opportunities and education for young people sign my petition and tell the Council their views through the consultation.”

Northumberland County Council are currently consulting on proposals for the post-16 transport scheme, where specific questions can be answered.

Julie’s petition to retain free school and college transport for 16-18 year olds in Northumberland can be signed at www.berwicklibdems.org.uk

Meanwhile, Northumberland County Council is asking for your views on a proposal to change the way it supports school transport to schools provided on the basis of religion or belief.

Currently the council provides free transport to just over 800 pupils for reasons of religion or belief at a cost of almost £870,000 a year.

If the council decides to make this change, it will be introduced only from September 2015, and only for pupils starting in a new school from that date.

The council is considering changing its home to school transport policy so that from September 2015 transport on the basis of religion or belief will be provided to new applicants on payment of an annual charge.

This would include any change of school, for example from first to middle school at age nine. In practice, the main effect of this change would be that children who on grounds of religion or belief choose to go to a particular school which is not their catchment or closest school would be asked to pay a charge.

The change would only affect pupils who choose to attend a non-local school for reasons of religion or belief in the school year starting in September 2015 or later and who would have qualified for free transport under current rules.

It would not affect children who are already attending a school chosen because of religion or belief, while they remain at that school. However the policy would apply to children currently attending a first, middle or primary school at the point when they move on to another school for the next stage of their education.

The change would not affect any pupil who would currently qualify for free school transport for any reason other than religion or belief.

To register your views on the options set out in this document, please follow this link to our online questionnaire survey.northumberland.gov.uk/school_transport_belief/school_transport_belief.htm

All comments should be received before Tuesday 10th June 2014.

All of the feedback received during consultation will be analysed and presented in a report to the County Council Policy Board in June 2014, when a decision on whether or not to approve the proposal set out in this consultation document will be made.

For further information on this proposal and the other consultations the council is undertaking in relation to its school transport policy please log onto Northumberland County Council’s website.

 

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