Parents' anger as schoolchildren on Northampton estate have free bus travel withdrawn

Simon Emery who discovered only this week he would have a 670 bill for school bus travel for his daughter.
Simon Emery who discovered only this week he would have a 670 bill for school bus travel for his daughter.

Parents living on an estate in Northampton will have to find £670 if they want their child to continue travelling on the school bus.

Pineham Village has been in the admissions catchment area for Campion School in Bugbrooke since the homes were built, and children who live in its streets have always been free to travel on the school bus.

But parents have now discovered that the free travel has been rescinded after a review by Northamptonshire County Council. The audit revealed that its free transport catchment area for Campion School was in fact different from the school's admissions catchment area.

Chloe Sharman, who lives in Damselfly Road, was dismayed this week to be informed by a neighbour - on the day her son Liam, 13, started back at school - that bus travel would now cost £670 each year.

Mrs Sharman said: "I really don't know what the council expects me to do. It just isn't safe for Liam to walk it. It's a dangerous route with lots of underpasses, which they'd know if they'd actually tried to walk the route.

"I'm seriously thinking whether I need to quit my job so I can drive him to and from school."

The policy seems all the more bizarre to Mrs Sharman given that pupils can catch the bus to Campion School for free from places that are further away than Pineham, such as Hunsbury Meadows and Upton.

"It feels like the county council has got no money and is basically picking on our families to get it back," she said.

The discrepancy between Campion's two types of catchment areas was actually discovered by council officers a year ago, the local authority said today. Pineham parents were supposed to be be warned the new cost would begin in September 2018, to allow them to budget, but Mrs Sharman is among a number on the estate who were never informed.

Neighbour Simon Emery - dad to Olivia, aged 12 - was preparing for the new school year believing his child would be safely travelling by bus.

He said: "We knew through Chloe that Liam had been getting the bus free of charge for two years. They live a few doors away so we had no reason to believe we'd have to pay for Olivia's travel."

His wife Irene added: "I feel sorry for the parents of all those children going to Pineham Barns Primary who sent their children their believing they were in the Campion School catchment and so would get a free bus when the time came."

A county council spokeswoman said its long-standing policy was to not link admissions and transport catchment areas. This was because an academy such as Campion School could extend its admissions area as wide as it liked and the council would have to pick up the school transport bill.

Pineham homes were never supposed to be in the transport catchment area for Campion School but had apparently been included in error, which was rectified after last year's review.

The spokeswoman said: “As a result of an audit of transport provision, we identified a few inconsistencies which were not consistent with the policy and have taken steps to address them.

“To correct the inconsistencies the council had continued to provide free transport for an additional year to allow parents to make the necessary adjustments.”