National Offer Day 2018: why aren’t Suffolk County Council protecting parental choice for rural families?

Yesterday Suffolk County Council proudly announced that over 91% of children would be going to their first choice secondary school. At the same time, the administration are proposing changes to the school transport policy that will effectively take away the ability to choose from thousands of children. We’re asking why the Council isn’t prepared to protect parental choice for these rural families.

In Suffolk 91.61% of applicants, equating to 6822 pupils, received offers for their first preference school and 97.23% of applicants received an offer for one of their top three preferred school.

This is extremely positive news: allowing children to attend the school of their choice ensures the transition to high school is as smooth as possible.

But the fundamental point is that children and their parents are able to choose their school. This choice could be on the basis of curriculum and academic excellence, pastoral support, or simply because it’s where their friends and siblings go to school. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that a choice can be made.

Changing the school transport policy to a ‘nearest school only’ system effectively removes any choice for rural families. School choice for rural families, already much more restricted than for urban families, will become a luxury for those who can afford it.  Education will become a postcode lottery. Low-income families, and those where both parents work, will be amongst the worst affected.

Councillor Andrew Stringer from the LDGI Group commented,

“It is gratifying to be told the Conservative administration at Suffolk County Council values parental choice and acknowledges that the move to upper school is a transition that needs to be right for the student.

But I really think it is a pity this does not seem to be considered in their school transport proposals. Those proposals completely undermine the notion of “choice” for rural families.

We’re facing a situation where potentially 3700 rural children will no longer be able to choose the school that’s right for them. Many will have to leave friendships behind. The transition between primary and secondary school will no longer be smooth or easy.

Some of the 6822 pupils who today received their first choice of school could be told by the council in 2019: ‘pay £1000, drive or move school’. How many of them will be forced to give up their places?”

Following a consultation process, the Cabinet are due to make a decision on school transport policy in June. We are urging them to listen to Suffolk residents, recognise the catastrophic consequences of both Options 1 and 2 for rural families, and not push forward with this change.

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