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Hope as review launched into scrapping of free grammar school transport in Kent

School bus

by political editor Paul Francis

Kent County Council is to review a decision that ended discretionary free transport for hundreds of children attending grammar schools.

The prospect of a partial U-turn over what was a deeply controversial decision to end subsidies from September last year was raised by county council leaders.

It followed a scathing attack by a senior Conservative and criticism from opposition Liberal Democrats, who sought to reinstate the scheme as part of Kent County Council's budget for 2012-2013.

Council leader Paul Carter (Con) said a working party would reassess the decision and examine if something could be done to help poorer families receive some support.

However, he said it was unlikely the scheme - which also ended subsidies for children attending denominational schools - would be brought back completely.

He said KCC faced continuing pressures on the authority's home-to-school transport costs and many children had the option of using the Freedom Pass.

Discretionary subsidies for those who opted for either a church school or grammar school above other schools nearer to where they lived were ended last year.KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter

Ending the scheme has proved unpopular with many parents and privately infuriated backbench Conservatives. At the time, several MPs in the county also expressed concern.

Andrew Bowles, a senior county councillor and the Conservative leader of Swale council, broke ranks with his party to publicly call for a re-think at the budget setting meeting.

He said KCC risked becoming a laughing stock and should be "man enough" to admit it as it was deterring children from less well-off families taking up grammar school places.

"The effect of these changes has been even more iniquitous than I feared," he said. "Those children who have striven to achieve the pass mark in the Kent test are denied subsidised transport while those that fall below the line are awarded the same.

"This change in policy is penalising those who work hard in the effort to give themselves a better start in life."

Cllr Carter, pictured above right, said he was prepared to set up a review to see if help could be offered to those on limited means.

"We should set up a review group to see whether this or other policies are preventing children taking up places at Kent's grammar schools. We cannot afford to do everything... if we can find the head room to make sure those no-one is prevented from sending their child to a grammar school, let us have a look."What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments below

Under the scheme, subsidies were worth an average of about £400 a year, although that varied depending on where children lived and the school they attend.

It was available where the school chosen was more than three miles from the child's home.

KCC had estimated at the time that as many as 4,200 children attending selective schools would lose out under its new arrangements.

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