TRAVEL cost arrangements for Flintshire children attending faith schools have split county councillors.
Flintshire’s lifelong learning director Ian Budd met with councillors yesterday to discuss proposed changes to the discretionary school transport policy.
Some members were unhappy that students attending faith schools outside their area would receive travel costs only if they shared the faith of the school concerned.
Cllr Chris Bithell, county hall cabinet member for education, said the changes would “close a loophole” which was “sometimes abused” and said savings would be about £100,000.
Cllr Nigel Steele-Mortimer said he felt “very strongly” about the issue. “A person does not need to have faith themselves to believe their child will be better off at a faith school,” he said.
And he expressed concern that it would be the least well off who would not be able to afford the extra transport cost.
“I feel it’s terribly wrong,” he told the lifelong learning overview and scrutiny committee.
Cllr Ron Hampson was among several members who suggested it was wrong that those attending Welsh medium schools would be treated differently.
“I think it’s unfair to differentiate,” he said. “People have all sorts of good reasons for sending their child to a faith school – and they should have that choice. There shouldn’t be a difference.”
Co-opted member Rita Price said she feared the proposal would “undermine” the system.
“The repercussions are considerable,” she said. “There’s a risk people will feel there’s an agenda against faith schools.”
Cllr Bithell said a child attending a Welsh medium school was a different case.
“If you send your child to a Welsh medium school, they will be learning in Welsh,” he said, “whereas you can go to a faith school without taking up that faith.”
He said there was certainly no agenda against faith schools and added other councils across the UK had withdrawn similar funding.
“Parental choice comes at a price. That’s true for everybody,” he said.
Council leader Aaron Shotton agreed making a comparison between Welsh medium schools and faith schools was mistaken.
“They are simply not the same,” he said “It’s about parity and the majority of parents will understand.”
But Mrs Price said the point was about helping parents access their nearest school of choice.
“There’s only one faith school for parents to access,” she said. “That’s why we have made that comparison.
“Some parents of other faiths want their child to go to a faith school, even if it’s not of their faith.”
“When you put the amount of money saved against the acrimony, I think it’s very very unfortunate.”
Cllr Bithell said the council had “anecdotal evidence” the option of free school transport to a faith school outside the area had become an “attractive alternative” to some parents who did not want a local school.
“This is what’s been happening,” he said. “We have got to face reality.”