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School bus brings discrimination claims

The headmaster of a faith school in Flint, Wales, has called for the policy concerning the school bus to be changed after some parents complained it was discriminatory.

The council-run bus is currently offered to Catholic pupils of St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School who live more than three miles from the school. Non-Catholic pupils have to pay for the bus, or a separate minibus service run by the school. Concessionary passes for the council bus are available for £55, or the school minibus costs £149 per term.

Ronald Keating, the school’s headmaster, commented, “It’s an unusual policy in that it’s done differently from other local authorities where all transport has been subject to being taken away. I would say that for us here that’s been a policy which has been much more painful because it means some children get, while others do not, and that’s against the principles of Catholic education.”

A spokesperson for Flintshire council commented, “The council has not recently changed its discretionary transport policies. Current policies are not unique to this authority or area. The council doesn’t duplicate services and provides transport for eligible pupils… All discretionary transport provision and policies are currently subject to a review. This can include circumstances in which charging is legal and appropriate. Any recommendations from that review will also in turn need to be subject to the statutory consultation and decision making processes prior to implementation.”

Part of the tension has arisen from the fact that it is the nearest Catholic school for many pupils, but non-Catholic pupils could theoretically attend a non-faith school that is closer. Nevertheless, many parents have complained about what they have dubbed the “Catholic bus”, arguing that children who attend the same school should be treated the same.

Education law expert, Angela Sandhal added: “The duty to provide school transport is a complex area and authorities will sometimes get it wrong particularly when the outcome appears to put one group at a substantial disadvantage when compared with another without any obvious justification.”

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