Hope as review launched into scrapping of free grammar school transport in Kent
by political editor Paul Francis
Kent County Council is to review a decision that ended
discretionary free transport for hundreds of children attending
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
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.
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
"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."
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
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