As many as 14 children previously assured concessionary places on Surrey’s bus to Woolmer Hill, serving Elstead, Tilford, Churt, Rushmoor and the surrounding areas, have been told to find alternative means of getting to school after the county council reduced the size of its vehicle in September.
Surrey County Council has a statutory duty to find seats for children who qualify for free school transport, being more than three miles from their nearest school, but offers any remaining seats on a concessionary basis, costing £177 each child per term.
This formula has been criticised for marginalising families in the rural area south of Farnham, however, many of whom have been denied places at their nearest secondary school, Weydon, and “strongly advised” by Weydon Multi-Academy Trust chief executive John Winter to send their children to undersubcribed Woolmer Hill ahead of their next nearest school, Farnham Heath End.
According to one of the affected parents, Natasha Fletcher, whose twin girls attended Waverley Abbey Junior School prior to joining Woolmer Hill last month, Mr Winter “guaranteed” there would be ample room on school buses to transport her girls to and from Haslemere each day.
But instead Natasha, who lives off Crooksbury Road and also has to transport a child to South Farnham Junior School every day, said the families were informed “just weeks” before the start of the new academic year that Surrey had reduced the size of its bus and would only be providing places to children who qualify for free transport.
As a result, the families are now facing a bill of £620 each child per term for private transport - with the mum of twins facing a potential outlay of £1,200.
The Weydon Multi-Academy Trust is currently subsidising half of this fee but has only committed funding to the end of this term in December.
Responding, a Surrey County Council spokesman said: “We have a legal duty to provide home to school transport for children who are entitled to it and while we offer concessionary seats if we can. In this case there’s not enough space and we do make it clear to parents that these seats can be withdrawn at any time.”
A Weydon spokesman was unavailable for comment.