The safety of Delabole children who have been refused free school bus travel by Cornwall Council has been raised in Parliament by local MP Scott Mann.
Speaking in Prime Minister’s Questions today, Mr Mann described the dangerous conditions which pupils at Sir James Smith’s School will have to face as they walk three miles to school along narrow country lanes. Specifically, the local MP said he was concerned about how children would have to walk in dark and wet conditions in the winter, with cars, lorries and tractors passing close by.
As with most rural areas, the idea is totally unworkable, demonstrating how out of touch councils in areas like ours can be. More value needs to be placed upon the safety of children and young people, and providing them with true and fair access to the education system.
Under government guidelines, free school transport must be provided to children over eight years old if they live more than three miles from school. The Council deem the distance to school for children in Delabole to be three miles, but this is based on the assumption that they walk along the shortest route along narrow country lanes.
Responding to the concerns, the Prime Minister said:
“We are committed to recognising the responsibilities that local authorities have on these matters and we’ve been providing them with the funding they need. We’ve increased the funding for Cornwall for 2019/20 by over £12 million since 2015/16.
“It is a matter for the local authority to decide how to spend their funding and to make decisions on local matters, but I agree with him and would encourage local authorities that in doing that, they are absolutely taking into account the wishes and concerns of the communities they serve, including the community of Delabole.”
The decision to refuse free school transport has sparked anger amongst parents, with a member of Mr Mann’s office joining parents on a walk to school this morning to see the dangers their children will face from September.
Pupils living in Delabole were previously given bus passes, but were informed that they were no longer eligible for free transport to school from September as outlined in Cornwall Council’s Home to School Policy 2017/8. This decision was also upheld after parent appeals. They are now going to stage two of the appeals process, in the hope that the appeals panel will look at all the information and determine that the route is unsafe.
Speaking after PMQs, Scott Mann MP said:
“One important part of education delivery in a rural area like Cornwall is that children can get to school safely. By refusing Delabole children free transport, Cornwall Council is risking their welfare. The distance that they have to walk is very far, but the distance in a bus is very small.
“The children live just under the three-mile threshold from school, which is calculated using the shortest possible route, which is comprised of narrow country lanes that are a real hazard in the summer let alone in the winter.
“That’s why I have brought this issue to the attention of the Prime Minister, and I hope her words and the campaigning by local parents will make the Council reconsider their decision.”