School angry at missing the bus on funding

By Jennifer Lipman, May 10, 2012

A Hertsmere Jewish Primary governor has expressed fears for its future after Hertfordshire County Council and Education Secretary Michael Gove rejected pleas to retain free or concessionary transport for pupils.

More than 200 of the 480 HJPS pupils use the council-run transport service, which is being abolished at the end of the academic year due to budget cuts.

Governor Abigail Silver said that short of a costly legal challenge, the Radlett school had exhausted its options.

She was worried parents would choose to send their children to nearer non-Jewish schools rather than meet the cost of driving their children to and from HJPS, which is located in a rural area without public transport access or safe cycle routes.

Parents have rejected the provision of a private coach, which could cost up to £1,560 annually per child.

"For children who are already attending, parents will do all they can to get them to school," Mrs Silver said. "The concern is that when people are choosing schools, this will be a factor. It is a worry for the future in terms of admissions."

HJPS governors have petitioned the council and Education Secretary Michael Gove on the decision. But Mrs Silver has received answers from both that leave little room for manoeuvre.

The council responded that there were "no clear grounds for such an exception" and that funding earmarked for rural communities had already been allocated.

Although hoping that the council's decision did not "automatically lead to a significant reduction in the number of parents choosing to send their children to faith schools", Mr Gove pointed out that it had no legal duty to provide transport. While the government supported parents' right to send children to schools in accordance with their religious beliefs, the Human Rights Act did not create "any positive obligation on the state to provide faith education or transport to and from such education".

Mrs Silver was disappointed at being advised by the council and the Department for Education to complain to the other. She criticised the government for "coming out with the right rhetoric on faith schools when it suited them", but failing to "back that up with the practical support.

"When the school was sited, the council knew it was on quite an inaccessible site. In the original agreement there was a clause - not an obligation - that the trustees would do all they could to ensure children came to school by bus. The last thing the council is supposed to be encouraging is people bringing their children by car."

Last updated: 8:13pm, May 10 2012