Parents and church leaders are uniting to fight plans to axe free transport to faith schools.
Northumberland County Council has proposed scrapping free bus travel for pupils electing to go to a school on the grounds of religion or belief where it is not their closest.
The move would see each child charged at least £360 a year for transport.
The council currently provides free transport to about 800 pupils for reasons of belief, costing almost £870,000 a year. It says that a review is necessary as it faces huge cuts in budgets, as well as arguing that the current policy results in unequal treatment of people with different religions.
However, Roman Catholic parents and clergy are dismayed at the plan, and the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle has called on the council to withdraw it.
Morpeth mum-of-four Clare Gosling said: “The church schools were founded to provide a Catholic education and if free transport is withdrawn you can’t access these schools without paying, which is a penalty.
“The church part-funds these schools, which is a benefit to the council, but it is like a reciprocal deal where we would expect that transport is free.
“Northumberland is such a vast county and there is only one Catholic high school, St Benet Biscop in Bedlington, so there would be massive complications if everyone had to find their own way.
“If Catholic families couldn’t afford to use the church schools, where would the children go? Morpeth schools are over-subscribed. I just don’t think it has been thought-through.”
Parish Priest at St Robert’s Church in Morpeth Father Lawrence Jones said: “Catholic families are very concerned that the provision for free transport to schools should remain in place. If it was taken away it would mean that only parents who could afford to send their children to Catholic schools could do so.
“We, the church and families, pay 10 per cent of repairs and building costs for these schools so we are saving the council money.
“If we can’t get Catholic kids to Catholic schools it could affect the whole viability of Catholic education. It is a big concern for the church.”