Post-16 plan ‘a disaster’ for students

Julie Porksen

Julie Porksen

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Students from north Northumberland who travel by train and bus to access higher education courses are facing a devastating financial blow.

A proposal going before Northumberland County Council next week recommends ending free transport for post-16 students, saving £2.4m a year.

It means students would have to pay the full cost where public transport is available or a standard charge of £600 per year for council contracted school transport.

“That would be a disaster for students in the Berwick area who travel by train to Newcastle or bus to Ashington,” said Julie Porksen, the Lib Dem who has campaigned to retain free post-16 transport.

She is equally appalled that pupils from outlying areas about to enter the sixth form will have to pay £600 to use the same school bus they have previously boarded for free.

“Labour’s charges will cause real hardship for many families, especially those in remote and rural areas, raising the cost of living for families with teenagers,” she said.

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith added: “This is outrageous discrimination against students in the Berwick area and the more remote parts of Northumberland, and if the Labour council goes ahead with the plan they will be demonstrating a callous indifference to education in rural communities.”

The council is considering the proposal against a backdrop of having to make £65m savings over the next two years.

A report to next Thursday’s policy board states that the current approach to school transport is no longer sustainable and alternative options to reduce costs need to be considered.

It reveals the number of students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3500 over the past five years. Costs to the council have increased to £3,3m per year.

It also notes that 40% of students eligible for free transport travel outside of the county with a loss of potential income of around £28m. The report also suggests there could be potential for school sixth forms and colleges extending the range of courses they can offer.

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