FAMILIES in rural south Shropshire will face a massive increase in the cost of sending their children to school.
Shropshire Council is proposing increasing the annual travel pass for young people from £500 to £876 – an increase of nearly 60%.
It is yet another hike in the charge that was just £262 in 2010 but in four years has gone up four times at a time when real incomes have fallen.
Steve Aze, from Church Stretton, is running a campaign against the increase that he describes as a postcode lottery and a poll tax on children.
“It is deeply unfair, unjust and unwise,” said Steve Aze.
“We are told that the country needs a highly qualified and skilled workforce and yet this is deterring young people from continuing their education.”
The charge applies to young people over the age of 16 who opt to stay on at school or college to study for qualifications like A levels and BTEC.
At age 16 or under travel to school has to be free as it is compulsory but after this education is considered a choice and so the charge is imposed.
“The government is increasing the school leaving age to 17 and then 18 so what will happen then?” said Steve Aze.
“Will people who cannot afford the cost of travel to send their children to school be criminalised?”
He points out that it is a particular problem in places like rural south Shropshire where sixth form colleges can be a long way from where people live.
In his case he has a son making the long and expensive journey to study at Ludlow College.
“It sounds crazy but it's true,” added Steve Aze.
“More than 100 years after free education was introduced in the UK, Shropshire Council is proposing charging many families £876 per year per child to send their children to school.
“It amounts to an educational poll-tax on Shropshire children allocated through a postcode lottery.”
The charge is reduced for families where the total annual income is less than £16,190, which is about two thirds of the annual wage, when the charge drops to £142.
This apart the charge is not means tested which means that a family with an income of £16,191 a year pays the same as another with an income on a million pounds.
“Anyone on this very modest wage that was offered a pay rise of a few hundred pounds a year but with a child travelling to sixth form college would be better off turning down the increase,” said Steve Aze.
Steve Aze says that he understands that Shropshire Council is having its funding from central government squeezed but believes it is taking advantage of the fact that most parents will want to do the best they can by their children.
He points out that if the charge was linked to real incomes it would actually have gone down over the past four years rather than increased by more than 300%.
Andy Evans, principal network solutions officer in Shropshire Council’s passenger transport commission, said the council has to reduce its subsidy.
Shropshire Council has confirmed the figures are accurate but said it had no choice but to take the action because of financial pressures.
“The council’s discretionary post-16 college transport assistance scheme currently offers termly transport assistance for a flat rate contribution, regardless of distance, to entitled Shropshire students,” he said.
"There is a need to look to reduce the subsidy that the council currently provides within this area, while at the same time continuing to support travel assistance to colleges and sixth forms.
"A consultation is running on the proposed charges from September 2014 for students not on defined benefits, which will be the equivalent of £2.43 per journey or £292 per academic term.
"For students who are currently on defined benefits, the proposed charge is 40p per journey or £47.50 per academic term.
"While the Government will increase the participation age to which all young people must continue in education or training from 2015, there is no change to the statutory assisted school transport entitlement, which still ends when pupils becomes 16 years of age.”