'St Michael' rebuffed on bus safety

The Secretary of State's move to force education authorities to consider pupil safety when considering eligibility for school transport has come under withering fire from parents and transport groups.

"The very idea of the Secretary of State posing as St Michael, patron saint of schoolchildren, is as absurd as it is offensive," Helen Mackenzie of BUSK, the Belt-up School Kids campaign, commented.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council has told the Government that its amendment, tabled at this week's report stage of the Education Bill in the Commons, is directed at the wrong clause of the existing legislation. The council claims the change should be to section 42 of the 1980 Education Act, which deals with entitlement, not section 51, which covers how that entitlement might be met - including the provision of bicycles.

Michael Forsyth said the intention was to make it "sufficiently clear" to education authorities that safety must be taken into account. Mr Forsyth acknowledged that councils did this as a matter of good practice, but he was attempting to meet parent concerns about children walking long distances or crossing dangerous roads.

The council warns that Government savings have forced local authorities to cut provision to the statutory minimum of free transport for pupils below the age of eight who live more than two miles from school and three miles in the case of all other children. Most councils operated a one and two-mile cut-off for primary and secondary children respectively.

A decision by Aberdeen City Council to revert to the statutory requirement for some pupils has already led to an outcry. Parents took their case to Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister and MP for Aberdeen South. This is thought to have prompted the Government to act.

Aberdeen education committee, meeting last Friday, confirmed the decision to abandon its two-mile rule for secondary pupils, but will continue to provide free transport beyond two miles for all primary pupils. The saving to the authority will be Pounds 250,000.

Grampian Transport has introduced a "scholars' ticket" that costs an average 86p a day for pupils who are not entitled to free travel, but some parents in Mr Robertson's constituency are boycotting the ticket on safety grounds.

BUSK and the council both say that cutbacks on school transport have forced parents to take children to school by car, increasing pollution and posing more dangers for child pedestrians.

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