Bus pass cuts ‘discriminatory’

PARENTS could be forced to shell out hundreds of pounds a year if Kirklees Council axes free transport to Catholic schools.

The council currently provides a free bus pass for Catholic children to travel to St John Fisher school in Dewsbury, the only Catholic high school in the area.

Under budget proposals drawn up by officers, the service would be axed to save £136,000 over the next five years.

The Labour Cabinet is against the proposals, but the outcome will be decided at a full council meeting on February 22.

Catholic schools have launched a petition against the plans, saying they are discriminatory.

John Cooper, headteacher of Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School, Heckmondwike, said: “The vast majority of our pupils go on to St John Fisher. The school draws children from a much wider geographical area than most other high schools. Pupils go there from as far away as Morley.

“These parents will have to make a choice to send their children to a non Catholic school, or face hardship.

“Parents who are just over the earnings threshold for free school meals and travel are being discriminated against because they will have to make this decision.

“A lot of them send their children to the Catholic school because that is their commitment and they value what they get in our schools.

“They will suffer a lot as a result of this and parents feel they have been chosen as an easy target.”

Mr Cooper said he was worried about the effect the decision may have on Holy Spirit’s future.

He said parents who could not afford to pay for bus travel to St John Fisher may decide not to send their children to a Catholic primary school either.

Mothers with children at the Holy Spirit School in Heckmondwike said they were appalled by the plans.

Alison Abbott said: “The whole education is based around the pastoral care. I want my daughter to go to St John Fisher to continue her education. It is the faith I wanted her to have.”

Mum Rachel Gonsalves said it would cost her at least £40 a week in bus fares to send her four children to St John Fisher.

She said: “I feel very anxious. I don’t have my own transport, and my daughter has said she is going to sixth form so it is an even longer commitment.”

Fr Michael Hall, St John Fisher deputy headteacher, said: “When proposals affect only Catholics it seems like discrimination.”