‘Schools’ faith test will save Flintshire Council from legal action’

Reporter:

Matt Jones

FLINTSHIRE Council could be left open to legal action if it does not introduce a “faith-test” for school transport a councillor has said.

The council is looking to bring in an eligibility test for pupils attending faith schools and those failing the faith test will then be barred from free school transport if it is not their nearest school.

But Cllr Chris Bithell, who sat on the working group which recommended the introduction of the test, said the current policy could be left open to a legal challenge by those who cannot get free transport to schools other than the one closest to them.

Speaking at a lifelong learning scrutiny meeting he said he feared the council could be challenged through the courts over its current policy.

He said: “This is an inequality of treatment which I think is subject to challenge. That was one of the main drivers of the report. There are people, and groups, who would only be to ready to jump on us if we persist with the current policy. There is an inequality in respect of this policy.”

Members of Flintshire Council are looking at plans to look at adopting a faith test for pupils travelling to religious schools but no final decision has been made with further consultation set to take place.

Ian Budd, Flintshire’s director of lifelong learning, said: “After initial consideration the reports are likely to be followed by an assessment of recommendations from the regional transport policy review currently under way and scheduled to report in 2011.

“A period of consultation with all stakeholders on any possible proposed changes and a further report on the outcome of consultations to be considered prior to final decisions being taken will take place.”

The nature of the “faith test” is yet to be decided, but in other parts of Wales this has involved a letter from a headteacher or priest confirming the pupil’s faith.

Of year seven admissions to St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Flint in 2009 more than half came from non-Catholic primary schools, but it is not known how many non-religious pupils are transported to faith schools.

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