MP vows to back special school over plans to axe transport

An MP has pledged to back a Walsall special school over concerns about proposed cuts to transport funding which would 'put students at serious risk'.

Eddie Hughes, MP for Walsall North, visited Mary Elliot School in Walsall yesterday to meet the school council and hear their concerns about Walsall Council's proposed cuts to the Home to School Transport scheme.

The current budget for the scheme is £2 million, which provides both statutory and non-statutory (post 16-transport).

The current offer is transport by taxi, mini-bus or coach which is either door-to-door or bus stop, independent travel training, personal transport budget or an independent bus pass.

Walsall Council has put forward two options for the scheme which includes firstly scrapping all forms of travel assistance for those aged between 16 and 18, and for people aged 19 and over the council would only continue to offer travel assistance through independent travel training, personal transport budget or an independent bus pass.

The second option would be scrap all travel assistance by taxi, mini bus or coach for people aged between 16 to 18 and those 19 and over – and continue to offer assistance through independent travel training, personal transport budget or an independent bus pass.

John Chell, deputy headteacher at the school, said the proposals would not only put about 50 students at 'serious risk' but would result in a number of the students stopping education.

He said: "Our students all have profound or severe and complex needs and a number of them would not be capable of accessing public transport independently and it would mean a serious risk if they did and would mean a number of them wouldn't be able to come to school.

"All our buses are door-to-door transport where minibuses with electric lifts and escorts pick the students up from their homes and take them straight to the school.

"The proposal is that it will continue for students aged 11 to 16 but not for them over 16, there will be no transport and it will be left to parents effectively.

"The assistance being proposed is effectively a bus pass, some of the students are life-limited, some have food pumps, some would become very seriously ill if left at a bus stop in the rain.

"Just because they're 17 or 18 doesn't mean they can stand at a bus stop.

"It would need two parents to bring the children to school, one to escort and one to drive, and they have other commitments such as work and other children."

The final recommendations will be considered in February.

Eddie Hughes said: "The meeting went well, I met the school council and they had an opportunity to explain the difficulty that the changes that the council is suggesting making would affect them.

"It is the only type of school in the borough, so people travel from all across the borough to get to it.

"I have offered to do whatever I can to try and influence the decision by the council. I understand this council has a budget and has some difficult savings to make.

"I will respond to the consultation and lobby the cabinet member myself.

"I feel there might be some middle ground between what the council is proposing and the outcome.

"The council needs to understand that the parents have committed to having their child educated at the school and it would be a real burden for them to change the ways that they're brought to school.

"I will be doing my best to support the school, but I fully appreciate how difficult a job the council has with the budget."

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