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Backlash after transport help scrapped for Kent grammar pupils

School bus
School bus

by political editor Paul Francis

Conservative education chiefs are facing an angry backlash from Kent MPs over plans to scrap transport help for grammar school pupils.

Several MPs have publicly denounced the plans and are calling for a rethink. Privately, some are furious over what they see as an attack on grammar schools by the largest selective education authority in the country.

Kent County Council announced this week it was to end discretionary transport subsidies for pupils who opt for a grammar or church school above other schools nearer to where they live.

The move, due to come in by 2012, is likely to affect several thousand children. Current subsidies, which are discretionary, represent on average about £400 but varies according to circumstances.

Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon said he wanted KCC to reconsider.

He said: "There is a reason this provision exists. Kent has the largest number of grammar schools in the country; school transport arrangements must reflect that.

"Denominational schools will inevitably have wider catchment areas. These proposals particularly affect Sevenoaks children because we have no grammar schools and no denominational schools, and pupils have to spend more time travelling further.

"The cost increase their parents will be considerable. KCC is managing a difficult budget well but it needs to reconsider on this."

Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch echoed: "Clearly there is going to be some very angry parents, particularly in my constituency where parents whose children will have worked hard to get to either a grammar school or church school will now be penalised for that.

"There may have been a fairer way of doing this. Parents are aware that services could be under threat but might be more sympathetic if KCC was to ask for a contribution rather than scrapping it altogether."

Ashford MP Damian Green said: "It is unfair to single out grammar schools and faith schools in the way these proposals do."

Meanwhile, KCC could face a legal challenge from church schools over the proposal.

According to Brendan Wall, head of Maidstone’s St Simon Stock School, the Catholic Education Service is investigating whether scrapping subsidies is legal.

"It will mean many parents of Catholic children will be unable to attend the school of their choice."

Responding to the criticisms. Cllr Sarah Hohler (Con), cabinet member for education, said: "We are very supportive of selective schools and believe we have a very good system. I do not think it will deter parents. If families do have hardship cases, they will be able to appeal to get help."

The proposal comes before KCC’s cabinet on Monday.

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