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Education cuts set to be scrutinised next week – including controversial removal of free transport to faith schools

Cuts to education in Wrexham are set to be debated next week including controversial proposals to remove free transport to faith schools.

As part of its budget consultation, the local authority asked the public whether it should remove the service in a bid to save around £302,000.

The changes would affect 406 pupils attending 17 different schools in Wrexham, and have been criticised by headteachers.

However, the council has stressed that no decision has been made and it would not be introduced until September 2021 at the earliest.

Responses to that suggestion and others will be presented to councillors on Monday 17th December.

In a report due before members of the lifelong learning committee, council leader Mark Pritchard said: “The provision of this transport to church schools is ‘discretionary’, meaning that we are not required to provide it by law.

“We estimate that providing this transport currently costs us around £302,000 per annum and therefore we want to review the current arrangements for this provision and consider ending this free transport.

“In order to progress this efficiency there would need to be a considerable amount of due diligence to look at the consequences.

“Should a parent decide that they want their child to attend a church school currently, free school transport is provided for pupils living further than two or three miles away regardless of whether there is a non-church school closer to where they live.

“Any review would include assessment of capacity in other schools and potential associated costs of transport to other schools should there not be sufficient space in the closest suitable school.”

Cllr Pritchard said there would need to be a further consultation before changes can be made to the transport policy.

He added removal of the service would be phased in gradually to ensure pupils are not affected in the middle of a particular key stage.

However Chris Wilkinson, headteacher of St Joseph’s Catholic and Anglican High School, has warned it could mean some families are no longer able to afford to send their children to faith schools.

He said: “Many families, over a number of generations, have been able to send their children to their nearest suitable church school.

“This would be completely unjust, not least because it discriminates against those who are choosing their nearest church school – particularly when there is a commitment to maintain buses to other types of school, for example Welsh medium.”

The proposal has been outlined as Wrexham Council is faced with making cuts to all departments totalling £9m next year following a worse than anticipated provisional settlement from the Welsh Government.

Other changes set to be considered by members of the lifelong learning scrutiny committee include a proposed review of library services, which could save £130,000.

The authority is considering whether to move some of the county’s nine static libraries into community ownership, as well as exploring lone working options.

A review of administration support in the education department is also expected to result in cuts of £21,000.

By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).



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