The future and provision of Post-16 education transport for students in Wrexham is set to face consultation.
Members of the Executive Board today voted in favour of putting the future of Post-16 education transport out to consultation as part of the ongoing bid to make savings of up to £45 million.
Currently Post-16 education transport is offered on similar lines to the service provided to pre-16, with transport provided is a student lives three or more miles away from a college.
At present the Council spends £370,764 annually on transport for Post-16 learners, providing services for students who study at Coleg Cambria (Wrexham and Deeside) and the Llysfasi campus near Ruthin.
The service itself is discretionary, meaning the Council do not have to provide the service to students. However within the report it states: “The Learner Travel Wales measure obliges Authorities to assess the travel needs of those up to the age of 19. Historically, too many young people in Wrexham have left education at age 16 and not progressed to further education, employment or training.”
Lead Member for Children’s Services and Education, Councillor Michael Williams said: “The service is offered on similar lines as Pre 16 education transport for students who live three miles or more from a college. The service is only provided if it’s not the nearest.
“If the nearest school to the student cannot provide the curriculum, we would have to look into transferring them somewhere with the curriculum. We have more children travelling to Northop and young people deciding on courses in Deeside.
“In order to address the issue, there are number of suggested options; these are not exclusive. Consultation will be completed by September so parents can be informed by October 1st.”
Overall there are four proposed options that have been put forward in the report.
The first option would be to limit transport to sites within the Wrexham County Borough. The report states that: “This would limit eligibility for transport to sites within the Wrexham County Borough Council area, except in cases where another location was closer.
“Transport to sites outside the area could still be provided by the colleges themselves, as was the case in many instances prior to September 2013. This would produce cost savings of approximately £154,000 annually.”
A second option would be to introduce a charge, that would vary / depend on the distance. This is already a method that is enforced by some authorities, but the report notes that ‘the Council could still be liable to transport
students long distances for specialised courses’.
Devolving the funding to local colleges has also been proposed, meaning that the Council would pay a certain amount for each eligible student to the college, and it would be up to the college to decide how the money was spent.
The final option would be to withdraw the service completely, with the report stating that ‘Consequently there would be no issues of providing support for some students and not for others’.
The report also acknowledges that the final option may ‘mean that some students no longer take up their courses and there could be issues with equality of access to education and training for learners from more disadvantaged families’.
One of the primary concerns raised by councillors centred around how changes to Post-16 education transport might put prospective students off applying to courses slightly further afield.
Councillor David Kelly said: “I welcome the report and fully realise the Environment Department has had this cost. I understand the service is discretionary, but we need to be careful how to do this.
“There are young farmers who need to have the facilities to go to agricultural colleges. We are specifically excluding those young children who want to follow their chosen careers. If we devolve to colleges, what colleges are we talking about?
“We could have an equalities issue here if the courses are not in the authority and students need to go out. If we don’t do it for one, we don’t do it for anyone.”
Cllr Williams said that ‘Coleg Cambria would be responsible on how they used the service and if they wanted to transfer kids further afield’.
Cllr Kelly’s concerns were echoed by Councillor Arfon Jones, who said: “I’m concerned whatever option we look at there may be a reduction in the number of students who take level five and BTEC. The last thing we want to see as an authority is a reduction of the number of young people training and employment.”
The Board were told that assessments will be carried out and that they are open to any further suggestions for the Plus-16 education transport.
Queries were also raised by Cllr David A. Bithell regarding how many children are involved in the procedure and how many buses are likely to be impacted. Cllr Bithell said: “We the report comes back from consultation, can we have this information?”
The Board was told by Cllr Williams that as much information as possible will be provided on the process.
No date has been set for when the consultation will begin, however the report notes that: “In order for changes in transport arrangements to take effect in September 2015, the changes in policy need to take place prior to September 2014.
“This is due to the need to notify parents and learners of the transport arrangements prior to 1st October of the preceding year in order for them to consider this in their decision as to which school or college to attend.”
A full copy of the Council report can be found on the Council website here.
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