The latest local authority to propose cuts to subsidised travel to religious schools is the Isle of White. In doing so, the cash-strapped council hopes to save £931,000.
A report, presented to members last week, stated: “With the cost of transport increasing, the council is unable to sustain the current level of transport offered to pupils. Pupils who attend a faith school on religious grounds currently qualify for free transport if it is their nearest faith school, rather than their nearest school generally, and this discretionary support is not available to pupils attending non-faith schools. The withdrawal of free transport would mean all pupils are treated equally, regardless of religion or belief, and release significant savings.”
“Christian parents” who will be hit by the end of this discrimination are, of course, up in arms, outraged that they will have to pay the same as everyone else if they want their children to go to a particular school that is outside their catchment area.
One parent said it was “a smash and grab raid on low-income parents” who want their children to go to a religious school.” He made no mention of the legal requirement that remains for local authorities to provide free school transport for pupils from low income families. Nor did he concede that other parents who cannot get their children into these privileged schools have to pay the full amount to transport their kids and pay council tax on top.
Following a public consultation on the issue, to be launched next month, a decision will be made by the council cabinet in June. If you live in the area, you may wish to make your views known.
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “It is a shame that it has taken a recession for the Isle of Wight Council to recognise the unfairness of this system. But at least it has had to face up to the reality now.”