The head of a Catholic school trust will urge Bradford Council to make a U-turn on its plans to end free transport to faith schools at a meeting today.
A petition signed by more than 300 people will be presented to the Council by Caroline Hyde, chairman of Bishop Wheeler Catholic Academy Trust, asking for a rethink of the policy, which the trust fears could cost families hundreds of pounds a year.
The Council consulted on the changes earlier this year as part of cost-cutting measures, but the proposals did not impress local faith groups, who claimed it was discriminating against religious families.
Although the budget was approved last month, a final decision on ‘faith transport’ is yet to be made, and as part of the public consultation councillors will receive the petition at today’s City Hall meeting.
Pupils who already receive free transport will not be affected. Under the previous policy pupils who lived more than two miles from their nearest faith school were entitled to free transport to and from school.
The trust runs Sacred Heart Catholic Primary in Ilkley, and St Mary’s, Menston. Mrs Hyde argues that ending free transport would lead to cash-strapped families having to send their children to schools closer to home, many of which are already over-subscribed.
As well as signing the petition of 335 names to the council Mrs Hyde will tell today’s meeting: “Hard working families would be forced to pay nearly £400 for each child, even those with siblings already at the school. There are serious unintended consequences – families won’t be able to pay and will be forced to take places in other local schools. In our area these are all already full.
“There won’t be enough places for local non-Catholic families, who will then have to be transported to the next nearest school at considerable cost to Bradford Council.
“The only way any meagre saving will be made is by forcing Catholic families to pay for transport.
“This is an attack on faith schools; by discriminating against one faith group you discriminate against all. Bradford has a proud reputation of multi-culturalism and being inclusive. As with other faiths in our city, we hope you show us some understanding and allow Catholic children to be treated the same as all others in Bradford.”
Councillor Ralph Berry, head of children’s services on the Council’s executive, said: “The implementation of some of these policies has to go through stages of consultation.
“Any cuts we have made have been with a heavy heart.”