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Punishing Achievement: Kent County Council Transport to Selective Schools

July 27, 2011 12:24 PM

A motion opposing the removal of free to school transport for pupils at selective and religious schools in Kent proposed by the Liberal Democrat group has been voted down by the Conservative majority on Kent County Council. The motion, moved by County Councillor Tim Prater, read:

"This Council believes that the proposal to cut discretionary home-to-school transport to grammar and denominational schools from September 2012 is likely to limit the choice of school and seriously affect the wellbeing of over 5,500 children, young people and their families, and have unpredictable financial consequences to this Council. Council therefore resolves to withdraw these proposals."

Every Conservative councillor voted against the motion.

Lib Dem Councillor Tim Prater said in moving the motion:

"It's not coincidence that parents send their children to Grammar Schools in Kent. It's not due to a quirk of demographics, or a strange perversity.

"Children go to Grammar Schools in Kent because Kent has a selective education system. Because this Council has chosen to support for many years a selective education system.

"Kent children go to Grammar schools because they pass an exam called "the Kent Test". We administer that exam. We support the Grammar Schools that they go to if they pass the test.

"And with the move to withdraw free school transport for those at selective schools that are not the nearest school to where they live, how do Kent plan to reward those who succeed in gaining a place at a Kent Grammar School? How does this Council plan to celebrate that success, to reward that achievement?

"Kent plans to reward that success by making it harder and more expensive for many children to get to the school they have won a place at.

"Of course, someone will make the point that there is a safety net for the poorest families - but only a few of them. Families with a low income are currently defined as those children entitled to free school meals or whose family is in receipt of maximum working tax credit.

"What about those receiving just less than maximum tax credits? Those with a large number of children at school? Those in the "squeezed middle" that I understood the Conservative Party were keen to protect?

"They pay.

"This proposal won't save Kent any money in 2011. It won't save much in 2012, 2013 or 2014 either. Free transport entitlement ends in September 2012 for new pupils. But existing pupils will continue to receive it. So the financial saving won't be seen for many years - if at all.

"The perversity is that as of September 2012, we could see one sibling going to a Grammar School by paid transport, but their sister a year younger being unable to sit by them on the same bus, because their parents can't afford it. For up to 4 years.

"The Freedom Pass is only an acceptable alternative where there are public buses running an acceptable route. And that pass costs Kent money too. So our way of reducing costs is to turn pupils off one service we subsidise, onto another we subsidise, at an unknown total cost saving. Brilliant.

"And for those in rural areas, the Freedom Pass can be of as little use getting to school. A Freedom Pass is useful if there is a bus going from the right place, to the right place, at the right time, and the same for the return journey. Without those things being in place, the Freedom Pass is a pointless alternative to offer. It's as much use getting to a Kent school as paying their London congestion charge would be. None.

"When you look at the proposal, when you consider how it rewards those who succeed, its clear that the proposal to remove the entitlement to free school transport to Kent Grammar Schools is clearly unfair while we support those Grammar Schools. This proposal gets a massive fail in its own Kent Test.

"If Kent are seeking to destroy the Grammar system then they should be honest about that and have an honest debate, not make it unaffordable for some families through the back door.

"If you support the Grammar School system in Kent.

"If you represent an area which does not have regular bus services from most places to the nearest Grammar School.

"If you feel that success should be rewarded, not punished, then I ask you to support this motion to ensure that we look again at these proposals and do not punish Kent children."