(i) From 1 September 2012, Kent County Council will not provide home to school transport provision on denominational or selective grounds other than where there is a statutory requirement to provide transport.
(ii) For children of low income families where the child is defined as an "eligible child" by schedule 35B Education Act 1996 (e.g. entitled to Free School Meals) and is resident in a selective area of education and aged between 11 and 16 years; Kent County Council will fund transport to the nearest grammar school provided that the child has met the entry requirements of the school and has been offered a place and it is the nearest school of that type to the child's home at a distance between 2-15 miles. This discretionary provision will align an element of selective transport policy with the statutory provision afforded to children from low income families who wish to attend a denominational school."
(iii) Any pupil in receipt of transport assistance on denominational or selective grounds prior to September 2012 will continue to retain this entitlement until they leave their current school, are no longer of statutory school age or have moved house and, following a transport assessment, are found not to be eligible under the revised policy.
(iv) In light of the many variable outcomes resulting from the changes in transport policy and how this may or may not impact on parental preferences for schools, a further review of transport will be needed in the future.
This still leaves in place free school transport for children living more than three miles from the nearest school for which they are eligible, whatever its status. This is likely only to apply to children living in rural areas of the county (there are many!), and for grammar school children will produce somewhat of a lottery depending on whether for example the local grammar school or non selective school is nearest is on their side of town. I can visualise the situation where two families living near to each other will have a different outcome according to the precise location of their grammar school. Interestingly, the KCC statistics focus on the effect on more prosperous families and omit the key statistic of those whose eligibility for free transport is retained because they qualify under the free school meals measure, an easily available figure. Quotations such as for faith secondary schools: "28% of eligible pupils attending denominational schools are from the most affluent families in Kent" and again "A significant proportion of the most affluent also retain their eligibility. Approximately 42% of pupils from the most affluent families in Kent retain their eligibility" hint at either frustration that the proposals cannot be couched in a way to remove this subsidy or a reassurance that families are not being penalised because of their affluence. Why cannot we see the same figure for those on free school meals which are easily available?
One further statement from the agenda paper is of particular interest in other areas of the political scene: "As a result of the above findings the LA would seek to mitigate against
this by ensuring that children from low income families assessed suitable for
grammar school be extended the same level of provision as is afforded to children
from low income families who attend a denominational school i.e. they will receive
free transport to any one of their three nearest appropriate schools between 2-15
miles of their home. This provision is to ensure that the changes do not become a
barrier to social mobility which was the founding principle of selective education"
At last we have the definition of the founding principle of selective education - social mobility! Hear, hear!
Many of the children affected will be able to benefit from the Kent Freedom Pass, now to cost £100 annually, which allows the child to travel freely on commercial buses at school time. The major problem with this is that KCC will no longer take responsibility for ensuring there is public transport to schools at appropriate times, or for making their own arrangements by use of school buses or occasionally taxis for children in especially remote areas. Commercial bus companies will be free to cut uneconomic routes and so there will be some children in rural areas who become unable to access their nearest faith or grammar school at all. I am sure that one part solution will be an extension of the provision already made by some grammar schools who lay on their own bus services (at a cost to the family), but these come with their own drawbacks.