BY Peter Diamond | March 30 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

5 bus

Catholic parents criticise council over transport access

Catholic parents at a primary school in Oban are in dispute with Argyll and Bute council over a bus service, which was pulled after three days of notice were given.

The local authority gave two families from St Columba’s Primary School in Oban just three days to find alternative transport for their children.

For the last 10 years St Columba’s Primary has been part of a shared campus with Rockfield Primary School’s English and Gaelic medium unit.

Argyll and Bute Council’s transport policy state that pupils in primary school are entitled to free transport if they live more than two miles away based on the catchment area and three miles for secondary school pupils.

They also state that if empty seats exist on dedicated school buses, children who do not meet the criteria may be granted a privileged seat, at a cost of more than £185 per child per year.

Families at St Columba’s had been paying for these privileged places until the council pulled their access.

Pupils living within the same area meanwhile who attend the Gaelic school that operates from within the same building, are entitled to free school transport.

Representatives of St Columba’s Primary have stated: “We believe Catholic primaries should have the same catchment area as their associated secondary school in Argyll and Bute. You cannot get Catholic education in mainstream schools, you also cannot get Gaelic education in mainstream schools, therefore both school should be entitled to free transport.

“The most recent case referred to two families with four children. Two of the children are in Primary 7 and only have a matter of months before they will qualify for the next lot of free buses to take them to secondary school.

“However, the council were moved to give the seats to pupils who were entitled to them because the fell within the catchment area but we feel if the catchment area was changed it would have a huge impact on people’s everyday lives. The second point is the timing: why were the families only given three days notice before the bus service stopped? It just seems rather silly from the council and it was ­disappointing that they couldn’t even extend the notice by one week to give the families more time to find a solution.”

A spokeswoman for Argyll and Bute Council said: “Our school transport policies are based on treating all pupils fairly, by ensuring that every pupil entitled to school transport gets it including those from St Columba’s, a number of whom qualify for transport.

“We have a duty to provide school transport for children who are entitled to it according to national guidelines. The majority of pupils do not qualify. For those children it is the responsibility of their parents to get them to school.

“However, we have where possible made empty seats on our buses available on a paid-for basis. This is not always possible given our duty to children entitled to transport.

“Our duty is to ensure transport for all children entitled to it. We are doing that.”

Church representatives, St Columba’s Primary parent council and Argyll and Bute Council are to meet to try and resolve the dispute.

Barbara Coupar, director of Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES), said: “I hope that there is an opportunity in the near future for parents and carers to meet with the council and find a resolution to this ongoing concern.”



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