HEADTEACHERS have expressed frustration with the lack of post-16 school transport provided by Wrexham Council.

They say it is having an affect on pupil numbers and the ability of some pupils to continue their education.

The issue came under the microscope at a meeting of the council’s Lifelong Learning scrutiny committee, which heard from headteachers about the problems pupils attending sixth forms in different parts of the county have experienced in recent months.

Students wishing to continue their education through the medium of Welsh at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd have struggled secure transport along with the costs involved.

The Caia Park based school is Wrexham’s only full provider of post-16 education in the Welsh medium.

And pupils living in rural areas such as Bronington and Overton have also struggled getting to their nearest sixth form, the Maelor School in Penley.

The council has no statutory obligation to provide post-16 transport, and that was a policy the authority took in 2015.

Lead member for education, Brynyffynon Cllr Phil Wynn (Ind) said sixth form pupils from Glyn Ceiriog attending Morgan Llwyd have accepted places on school buses with a concessionary offer of £2 a day.

The Leader: Cllr Phil WynnCllr Phil Wynn

“That has resolved that issue for now”, he said.

“It is an issue we will look at more closely next year to ensure there is a smoother transition, so families are aware what concessionary seats are likely to be available and we don’t have to wait as long as we did this year to offer concessionary seats.”

Cllr Wynn added that the council has to prioritise its statutory duty to under-16 pupils, but the Welsh Government is reviewing school transport and might help fund post-16 transport in future.

He said: “Hopefully Welsh Government will look favourably on making sixth form a statutory requirement and funding will come with that obligation. I think it would be premature for us as an authority to make any decisions until that announcement has been made.”

While Wrexham Council does not provide free post-16 transport, Coleg Cambria does, which according to headteachers, makes it a more attractive option to pupils.

Simon Ellis, headteacher of the Maelor School in Penley told the meeting the majority of his sixth form pupils pay for transport.

He said: “It should be noted that a number of our learners are choosing not to go to the Maelor sixth, but to go to Coleg Cambria due to costs.

“Learners living in Overton for instance who received free transport to the Maelor who would have done their 11-16 education with us have no choice but to get to Coleg Cambria.”

He added that those travelling from the villages of Worthenbury and Bronington face particular difficulties, adding that pupils living there had to wait until October to find out whether they were eligible for a concessionary spot on a council run bus. Mr Ellis said parents and pupils should know well in advance whether spaces are available.

“This ad-hoc nature of waiting to hear whether a seat is available is not very reassuring to a learner”, he said.

“I think there are inequities in provision for post-16 education.”

The Leader: Maelor School, Penley.Maelor School, Penley. (Image: Google)

Catrin Pritchard, headteacher at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd said pupils travel from as far as Bwlchgwyn, Rossett, and Glyn Ceiriog to continue their education at the Welsh medium school.

But she said a lack of affordable transport could have a real impact on its future as the school draws much of its workforce from former pupils, due to the difficulty of recruiting fluent Welsh speaking staff.

Ms Pritchard said that out of 60 teachers at the school, 43 per cent of them are past pupils and in her five years at school, has not had to draw up a shortlist for vacancies due to so few applications.

She said: “We are lucky if we have one applicant for a post or vacancy.

“At the moment I have seven vacancies and I’m not receiving any applicants whatsoever – those are posts for teaching assistants, science technicians, heads of department and teachers as well.

“Therefore it’s really important to note how much we rely on our post-16 students to come back and become our geography teacher, or science technician and be our teaching assistants.

“Transport does seem to be our biggest issue post-16 at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd. Less than a third of our cohort came over to Post-16 this year. We have less than 80 pupils in total in our sixth form.

“Parents are willing to pay but we are not being informed of any concessionary seats until way past October.

“When it comes to pupils travelling, for example from Bwlchgwyn and Glyn Ceiriog, public transport doesn’t even allow them to arrive at school on time.”

Cllr Wynn said the council will try to make decisions on concessionary transport earlier, but some buses have no extra spaces available. He said the authority is currently struggling to pay for statutory transport with the budget for that currently more than £5m a year.

And officers explained ‘exceptional’ delays in deciding on concessionary transport this year were due to late applications for statutory school transport.

Ruabon Cllr Dana Davie (Lab) said she had concerns about pupil numbers reducing, the knock-on effect to budgets, and the bigger picture of local economy.

“I think we need to bite the bullet here”, she said.

“If Welsh Government make the decision you’re hoping they’ll make, we’re playing catch up then because we still need to procure the service.”

Cllr Wynn responded: “Even if we did re-introduce Post-16 transport in Wrexham, it would be subject to a consultation process and that could take up to a year. If the money is there to fund that option, then there is a process that would need to be followed.”

Cllr Davies also queries the number of ‘hazardous school routes’ adding that if routes to school could be made safer more children might not need to use transport.

Recommendations to the council as a result of scrutiny and voted for by members were to;

Review the concessionary seats timetable.

Write to the Education Minister about Learner Travel Measure.

Ask the Executive Board to review the 2015 decision about post-16 transport in light of the ‘cost of living’ crisis.

Report on hazardous routes.

Receive an update from officers and headteachers on what can be done immediately to alleviate problems.

Make a projection for sixth form numbers going forward and the cost of free transport for them.