Parents will have to pay a lot more towards getting over-16s to school or college next year as the county council considers raising the cost by more than a quarter.
The Post-16 school transport policy could increase the parental contribution by 27.1 per cent if approved by Hampshire County Council’s executive lead member for children’s services Steve Forster next week.
The post-16 transport policy ensures that over-16 students with special needs or disabilities can access education no matter their parents’ economic situation.
Transport will typically only be offered if the student has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or if the student has a disability which means they require transport arrangements.
Where travel/transport is perceived as a barrier, the policy statement details when and how the council will support attendance in Post 16 education.
The transport service provides transport for approximately 560 students a day.
Due to the above-inflation increases in transport over the last year, the council says that the service now costs 27.1 per cent more than last year, a total of £3.7m a year.
The council is therefore suggesting that parental contributions go up by 27.1 per cent for the next academic year. The proposal was subject to public consultation from February 20 to April 2 this year.
The consultation received 31 responses; one stated they were supportive, 12 said they were opposed, and 18 expressed ‘no direct support or opposition though all had unfavourable comments’.
One parent said: ‘I am writing today to strongly disagree with the proposal to increase parent’s contributions. We already pay a huge amount towards transport. It is not our children’s fault that they need access to private transport rather than public transport.
‘It is also not our children’s fault that the closest colleges that can meet their needs are a lot further than their local colleges. We already pay significantly more for our children who cannot use public transport, but raising this amount is ridiculous. It seems the most vulnerable are being targeted again.’
Another one stated: ‘The increase in cost will potentially have the impact of forcing me, and I am sure other parents, to give up work to transport my daughter to college rather than trying to find the extortionate charge you are proposing.’
One mum wrote: ‘Families with disabled children have enough to deal with without the additional extra stress of costs rising for transport. My disabled 19-year-old daughter cannot access a college close to home as they are not equipped for her powered wheelchair; the specialist teacher advisor pointed us to a college that is 21 miles away as this was the closest one that can cope with the wheelchair, I cannot work due to health issues myself and cannot always drive her to college. It is so unfair that every year we have to find just under £1,500 – to put this up to just over £1,700 is absolutely absurd.’
A grandparent also objected, saying: ‘To increase by 27.1 per cent in one go is eye-watering, to say the least, and will impact greatly on my family!’
Forest Park School, Peter Symonds College, Hook Parish Council and Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association also sent objections to the county council.
The annual parental contribution for a journey to school/college of between five and 7.5 miles was £853.44 last year (20 per cent of the total cost of providing the service). Due to this proposed change it will increase (by 27.1 per cent) to £1,084.72, which is 20 per cent of the average annual cost of providing this service, a total of £6,698 in this example.
The policy would continue to allow for parental contribution charges to be waived when parents/ carers are on a low income, in receipt of certain benefits or if the student receives free school meals. Families with exceptional circumstances can also apply for a discretionary waiver or reduction in parental contributions.
The council currently funds approximately 80 per cent of the average Post 16 transport arrangement cost from revenue budgets, with parental contributions making up about 20 per cent.
In 2022/23, for approximately 76.7 per cent of Post 16 eligible students, the parental contribution was waived due to low income, in receipt of benefits, free school meals or exceptional circumstances. Parental contributions will continue to be waived under those situations in 2023/24.
The proposed changes will be decided on Thursday (May 11) at the executive lead member for children’s services decision day.