Parents get boost in bid for school transport help

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Frustrated parents who are having to pay hundreds of pounds a year to send their children to their second choice school have received a boost in their bid for financial help.

About 30 children from the villages of Gosforth, Seascale and Eskdale failed to secure a place at West Lakes Academy, in Egremont.

The secondary school students were instead allocated places at Whitehaven Academy, which is in special measures, or Millom School, which is more than 20 miles away.

All those affected chose to go to Millom, however, as it is not their catchment school, the parents have to pay almost £400 a year in transport fees.

But county councillors voted earlier today, at a meeting of Copeland's local committee, to refer the issue to their next cabinet meeting - on October 19.

This means parents will be able to hand over a petition, which has been signed by over 1,000 people, and make their case to councillors.

The cabinet will consider redrawing the boundaries so the three villages become dual catchment areas of Millom School and West Lakes Academy and paying transport costs for the parents affected.

Andy Pratt, who represents Seascale on Copeland Council, has been supporting the families in their campaign.

After the meeting, he said: "We're pleased we can go to cabinet. We'll take the petition and use our chance to speak, it's what we wanted today.

"We want to see a common sense approach for rural children. If there's a small shortfall then parents would be happy to pay but they shouldn't pay the full amount."

One parent Andrea Takacs said: "The biggest problem is financial. Every year it costs nearly £400 and when my other child starts that will be £800.

"I don't mind him going to Millom but the travel should be paid for. I would like the council to give us a fair chance as a catchment school."

While Jen Norman, whose daughter has just started at Millom School, said: "We've accepted the fact they will be going to Millom but why should we have to pay?"

A report to councillors suggested the best option to deal with over subscription at West Lakes Academy would be to challenge the regional schools commissioner - Janet Renou - to improve Whitehaven Academy.

"I do have immense sympathy for families who have not been able to go to the school of their choice," said councillor David Southward, who is a governor at West Lakes Academy.

"We've got to get it nationally recognised what the crux of the problem is, it comes down to Whitehaven Academy, which is run by Bright Tribe."

However Paul Turner, who represents Gosforth on the county council, said: "This is another example of how rural communities are suffering. I would like to see it referred to cabinet, the solution, the way I see it, is that the catchment areas are redrawn and that transport costs are met for parents who are being disadvantaged."

And Coun Chris Whiteside added: "The idea of a shared catchment area would be more logical. I don't think it's unreasonable on a case by case basis to have another look at this."

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