Council transport fees threaten studies

Emma Nesbitt and her daughter Melissa of Whalton House Cottage at Whalton.'REF 2708147397
Emma Nesbitt and her daughter Melissa of Whalton House Cottage at Whalton.'REF 2708147397
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An anxious mother is worried about how her daughter will get to school next week as she cannot afford new transport charges.

Northumberland County Council has scrapped free post-16 student transport, saying it will save £2.4million a year.

Funding will continue for students from low income families based on criteria for free school meals, or with special educational needs, but others will have to use public transport, or pay an annual fee of £600 to travel on school buses.

However, Whalton resident Emma Nesbitt says that like many families, she and her husband live up to their means and cannot meet the new travel costs for 16-year-old daughter Melissa, who is due to start King Edward VI School sixth form in Morpeth on Tuesday.

There is no public transport available, her parents work so are unable to take her by car, and it would be a seven-mile walk to the school, with few pavements.

Mrs Nesbitt has asked for a means test to prove she cannot meet the cost, but has been told that unless she pays £200 immediately and agrees to a further eight instalments of £50, Melissa will not be able to get on the bus.

She said: “I started all this off at the end of last term when the letters came through. When I contacted the council, I was told not to worry and just to put the application in for a place on the bus with a covering letter. I filled in the form straight away. Now I’ve been told there is nothing the council can do.

“I just can’t get my head around it. There should be a means test to see if it can come up with something affordable.

“It’s £2.30 a day so why can’t Melissa just pay that on the bus on the day? I spoke to the school and it has agreed to pay £170, but I would have to pay the money upfront and then get it back.

“I don’t know how Melissa is going to get to school on Tuesday. The council is refusing to do anything until I pay and Melissa is completely stressed out.”

She added: “A school bus will be going through this village anyway, regardless of whether Melissa gets on it so her using it doesn’t cost the council anything.

“There is no public transport system in Whalton and King Edward’s is Melissa’s nearest sixth form. It just seems so unfair. I think it’s disgraceful.”

A council spokesman said: “We’re asking parents with specific questions about post-16 transport arrangements to contact our school transport team.

“For those who do not meet the low-income criteria, but are suffering financial hardship then help may be available through the award of discretionary 16-19 bursary funds.

“Help from this fund is usually available to students in arrears and is based upon a student’s attendance at school. The school’s Student Support Officer will have further details.”