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Home truths for Peacock over the school bus

The Education Minister is to be given a sharp reminder of his past in the Highlands.

Faced by rising school transport costs, Andy Anderson, Highland Council's education chairman, is demanding action from Peter Peacock, a former convener.

The authority transports 10,000 pupils to and from school every day, but just half of the bill is covered by the Scottish Executive - pound;4.45 million a year against an actual pound;8.7 million.

Michael Foxley, the council's vice-convener, said that if school transport costs were covered the Highlands could have had a pound;10 cut in council tax this year, instead of the planned pound;50 increase.

Mr Anderson complained that the school transport legislation is badly out of date and requires to be modernised. "Traffic has increased significantly since the 1980 Education (Scotland) Act and child protection and child safety issues are more of a concern for parents than ever before. But we still expect a child of five to walk two miles to school and a child of nine to walk three miles."

Many well-intentioned initiatives such as "Safer Routes to Schools" were less effective in rural areas. "Some of our schools are on roads with 60mph speed limits, some with no pavements," Mr Anderson said. "We think the statutory walking distance which qualifies children for school transport should be reviewed and reduced to one mile for five-year-olds and two miles for a child of nine, to give our young people some protection.

"We recognise the importance of exercise and the growing concern over childhood obesity, but a balance needs to be struck especially in rural areas where there are fewer pavements and street lights."

Mr Anderson added: "The whole legislation must be reviewed because, while local authorities have to provide a pre-school place for all three and four-year-olds, this is not set out on a statutory basis and neither is the provision of transport to and from nursery.

"That causes significant exclusion problems for rural families. We have been told of a number of cases where parents have transport difficulties and where they cannot access provision for pre-school children.

"It is often the families who could benefit most from transport provision that suffer."

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