By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Esson
Parents will be told to cough up £500 if plans to axe free school journeys for teens with special needs are given the go-ahead.
Kent County Council has unveiled proposals to end the no-cost service for youngsters over the age of 16 next September in a bid to save £700,000.
But families have criticised the “disgusting” changes, as they face having to pay for the taxis and minibuses their children have been taking to attend class.
Sheppey mum Mandy Swords – whose daughters Teagan and Kaitlyn go to schools in Canterbury – believes a lot of parents will not be able to afford the service.
“Many mums and dads who have children with disabilities using KCC transport don’t work,” Mrs Swords, who works as a carer, explained.
“I’ve got two children who use it, so it’s going to cost me £1,000 a year.
“We’ll have to find the money some way or another, but we haven’t got the cash spare – we just tick over.
“It’s disgusting really – it’s ridiculous.”
Mrs Swords believes the authority needs to “put more money into special needs education, instead of trying to cut it back”.
The authority hopes to introduce the changes in the 2024-25 academic year.
Under the proposals, pupils with special needs who have an educational health care plan will be “expected to seek a 16+ travel saver bus pass”.
Anyone unable to take public transport will be offered the use of taxis and minibuses, for the price of a bus pass, which is currently £500 a year. The fees can be reduced for low-income households.
Canterbury teaching assistant Ruth French sends her son Ben, 14, to Ripplevale School, near Deal.
“The majority of children who rely on transport are not safe to travel alone as they are vulnerable by the nature of their conditions,” the 43-year-old said.
“I understand cuts need to be made somewhere when money is tight, but vulnerable teens who need transport to access education and to arrive in a state ready to learn should not be used as the saving.”
Herne mum Michelle Kerly says her 11-year-old son Edward, who is also set to go to Ripplevale, “would not be able to cope” on public transport.
She believes the plans will make families “suffer”.
Official documents show the authority will also run a “vacant seat payment scheme”.
It will allow parents to purchase a place in a vehicle hired by KCC for other pupils on a first-come-first-served basis. However, the number of vacant seats will only be known after school term starts.
KCC is asking residents to have their say on the changes. A spokesman for the authority stresses “strength of feeling will of course be taken into account by members”.
“But a consultation is not a vote,” the official added.
“It is about understanding the impact our proposals may have on people and using this insight, along with other evidence, to enable well-informed decisions to be made.
“The results of the consultation will be considered by members at Cabinet meetings in May and June.”
The consultation is set to close on March 21.
Find out more at https://letstalk.kent.gov.uk/school-transport-policy