Education officials in Fife have been told to forget any notion of changing the distance from school that entitles pupils to free bus passes as part of a wider review of school transport.
As revealed by The Courier on Monday, the region’s education and children’s services committee was asked to consider a change to entitlement distances in a bid to provide greater consistency and equity with regards to provision.
Despite pressure to make savings via the measure however, members unanimously agreed that Fife’s “more generous” offer of free transport for primary pupils who live more than one mile away from their school and secondary pupils who reside more than two miles away must stay in place for the foreseeable future.
Further options in relation to an agreed policy on subsidised transport for those living less than the entitlement distance from school, and a new Walk Routes to School policy, will be explored further over the coming weeks.
Labour councillor Helen Law’s amendment calling on the committee to reject the idea of changing the entitlement thresholds was unanimously approved, and officials were left in no doubt about members’ feelings on the issue.
“Please do not bring this idea back again for the duration of this administration,” she told officers.
“This is wheeled out all the time and I think it’s clear as day what our position is.
“All of our efforts to close the attainment gap will all be worth nothing if we can’t get the kids through the door.”
Mrs Law said any future policy proposals about pupil transport should also have “flexibility and humanity” built into it.
Her comments were largely echoed by other committee members who baulked at the thought of changing the current distance entitlement in Fife.
Liberal Democrat education spokesman James Calder said: “Changing the distance where free transportation for schools from those living further than our current two miles for secondary schools to those over three miles is unacceptable.
“I raised the fact that this will lead to more parents having to drive their children to school.
“This will simply lead to more distress for local residents near to schools due to parking issues and more dangers to our children.
“We should not make these changes and I am pleased that there is cross party support against them.”
Committee member Bailey-Lee Robb MSYP branded any proposed change “ridiculous” and Burntisland, Kinghorn and Western Kirkcaldy councillor Kathleen Leslie lamented “vagueness” in the report, in particular in relation to a suggestion it could be possible to reach agreement with ScotRail to use existing train services to take pupils to school at a reduced cost instead of existing contracted buses.
Labour councillor Linda Erskine also highlighted access issues at Lochgelly train station should any rail option be pursued, but Shelagh McLean, head of education, stressed that the report was merely intended to provide possible approaches for discussion ahead of firmer proposals coming forward.
Following yesterday’s committee meeting, a workshop will now be held at a later date to consider remaining options and approaches before a formal plan for the future of pupil transport is drawn up.