Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Post 16 School Transport Update

Post 16 School Transport Update You will be aware that we have recently changed our policy on Post-16 student transport, therefore, I thought it would be helpful to clarify the current position. This letter will explain the background to the decision, the exemptions and other actions the council is taking to support you and your family. The decision by Policy Board has not been taken lightly. Cuts in funding have made it necessary for the council to reduce or curtail the provision of a number of discretionary services. Background The council receives no separate funding for Post-16 transport, and is very unusual in that it is one of the last authorities still offering free transport for Post-16 students. The cost of providing free Post 16 student transport has nearly tripled to £3.3 million per year from £1.2 million per year in 2008 when the free scheme was introduced. Since that time the number of students benefiting from free transport has risen from 850 to 3500, over this time the number of students attending post 16 education has fallen slightly. Of the 3500 students currently benefitting from free post 16 student transport, about 1400 (40%) choose to attend out of county establishments such as Newcastle College and Tyne Met College. This has resulted in a loss of potential income to Northumberland-based learning providers in the region of £28 million since 2008, which equates to £4475 per pupil per year. This reduction in post 16 students reduces the scope of the county’s schools and colleges to expand their curriculum and could undermine the viability of post-16 provision in certain cases. Exemptions 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. 1. 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. 2. Students with a statement of special educational need (SEN) 3. Students from low-income families – defined as those who would qualify for a free school meal. Families who are claiming any of the following benefits/support can benefit from free transport: a) Income Support b) Income-based jobseeker’s allowance c) Income-related employment and support allowance d) Guarantee credit of pension credit e) Child Tax Credit (but not entitled to Working Tax Credit) where your annual income, as shown on your Tax Credit award notice is £16,190 or less. f) 16-18 year-olds receiving the above benefits or tax credits in their own right g) Asylum seekers in receipt of support provided under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 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. Application Process The travel scheme and its website are now open and I encourage you to familiarise yourself with the new Post-16 Transport Policy. If you feel your child meets any of the criteria that we use to determine eligibility for either (i) assistance with transport costs or (ii) travel on school bus services commissioned by the Council then I would encourage you to apply as early as possible. This will ensure your child is in receipt of their travel permit in good time before the start of the new Academic Year in September. There are two transport application forms, one for existing Post 16 students and one for students entering Post 16 education in September. Please ensure the correct form is completed. Further information is available on the school transport webpage which you can find at http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/Default.aspx?page=457#post16 However, if you require a paper copy of the application form this can be posted to you. Other actions we are taking to support Post 16 students Withdrawing funding for Post-16 student travel places an additional financial burden on families and in order to ensure that the best range of travel options are available the council is taking the following measures: 1.Working with schools to target their bursary funds to students in financial hardship who don’t qualify for financial support from the Council. 2.Where appropriate public transport is available then students will be expected to use this, however, in some circumstances, particularly in rural areas, appropriate public transport will not be available. In these locations the council will then 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. The actual average cost of providing this transport is over £900 per year. If your child needs to apply for a place on one of these buses then you should use the application process as set out above. The application forms explain the flexible payment options available. 3.Where families need to use contracted school bus services provided through the Council and elect to pay the cost of school transport by direct debit, there will be no additional charge 4.In some locations schools are working with the council to purchase existing spaces on these services for their students. You should talk to your school about their proposed approach. 5.Discussions have taken place with Arriva, the County’s principal supplier of local bus services and they have 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 e.g. 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 have 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. Arriva are 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 via our website and Arriva’s. 6.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. 7.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. The college has recently been judged by Ofsted as Good and they are ranked fourth nationally for the quality of their Post-16 provision. •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 their Kirkley Hall and Ashington campus is being arranged-parents and students should contact the Colleges directly about this. Further Information Further updates on the various initiatives being taken by the Council, schools, colleges and bus companies will be announced over this and coming weeks. I realise that you will want to see the detail behind such announcements as soon as possible and appreciate that not all of them will be relevant to every family. We will ensure that all updates, including those from other suppliers, are placed on the Council’s School Transport website and the link you need to follow is: http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/STpolicy Whilst charging for a service that is currently provided free will never be popular, I hope this note provides you with some reassurance that steps are being taken and will continue to be taken to help students continue to access Post-16 educational opportunities.