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Ticket to learn faces final punch

Dramatic improvements in a Newcastle primary school are said to have been brought about by a subsidised bus service.

But the bus, which offers free transport to pupils in one of the North-east's most deprived areas, is about to run its last journey unless more funding can be found.

Two years ago, only a quarter of pupils at Mary Trevelyan primary school were reaching average scores in English, maths and science tests. Since the Ticket to Learn scheme began, that figure has risen to 75 per cent at key stage 1 and 70 per cent at KS2. Overall school attendance has also risen by 10 per cent.

Headteacher Mavis Grant is convinced the bus service is responsible. "I know it all sounds very simplistic, the idea that transport can improve academic performance. The children want to learn, their parents want them to learn - and now that we can get them to school safely and on time, they can," she said.

Mary Trevelyan is in Newcastle's Cruddas Park estate, where 86 per cent of pupils have free school meals and 61 per cent come from households with no breadwinner.

The area has the highest levels of adult male unemployment in Newcastle - 46 per cent - and the highest levels of long-term illness in England. Many pupils as young as five walked to school alone.

As a result many children didn't show up at all or arrived late and stressed - "generally in no fit state to learn", says Ms Grant.

On a working trip to New York she was inspired by the school buses which toured inner-city estates picking up unaccompanied children . With initial funding from Save the Children, she brought the scheme to Cruddas.

Save the Children can no longer guarantee the pound;8,000 a year it costs to run the bus and despite repeated requests, the LEA has declined to do so. Fund-raising efforts by parents have secured an extra pound;3,000 to keep the bus on the road until July.

And clutching his pocket money in the head's office, one pupil said: "It's eight grand, isn't it? I've brought some money in meself."

Feature, friday magazine, page 16

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