Plans to end free transport for children attending faith schools has sparked criticism from Catholic schools, who say it is “discriminating against faith groups”.
Bradford Council is currently consulting on the cuts, which will see subsidised transport to and from school ended for a number of groups.
Among these groups are children who attend faith schools that are beyond the statutory walking distance – 1.5 miles for primary schools and two miles for secondary schools.
The Diocese of Leeds, which runs local Catholic schools, has called the proposals “disappointing”, while The Bishop Wheeler Catholic Academy Trust, which runs Catholic secondary schools in Ilkley and Menston, has called the cuts unfair to Catholic families, especially those in the more rural, northern areas of the district, where families could live several miles away from the nearest Catholic school.
The proposals come as Bradford Council looks to make £89 million of savings over the next two years. Any cuts would begin in September, and not affect those already receiving travel assistance.
A letter from Caroline Hyde, chairman of the trust which runs St Mary’s Menston and Sacred Heart, Ilkley, said: “This policy will have a disproportionate negative effect on Catholic families of Addingham, Burley and Ilkley.”
She estimates it could cost a family of three school-age children an extra £1,000 a year to get their children to school after the cuts, adding: “This will be a real challenge to all but those on the highest incomes.
“The policy appears to be based on the assumption that Catholic families will be willing to cover these additional costs and in essence this becomes a ‘tax’ on Catholic families.”
A petition being circulated by the trust calls for families to support their position, and describes the cuts as “discriminating against faith groups.”
John Grady, from the Diocese of Leeds, said: “Bradford isn’t the only Council that is planning such cuts. A lot of families might now have to carry the burden of finding extra money to send their children to the school they want. Families feel it is unjust, not because Catholics are a special case, but because often because the schools are further away.
“It is a parent’s right to have a Catholic education for their child.”
Coun Ralph Berry, executive member for children’s services on Bradford Council, said: “I understand the concerns of the Catholic church, the Church of England and local Muslim schools, but we have to find ways to protect the services that are most vulnerable from budget cuts.
“We have to make difficult decisions – I don’t want to have to bring forward such proposals. We are looking to cut this area where we spend on something we are not required to provide. If they have any other ideas of ways to bring down spending they can suggest them, but so far they haven’t.”
Schools, parents and carers are being asked for their views as part of the consultation, and a public meeting on the proposals will take place in the Kings Hall, Station Road, Ilkley, on Tuesday, February 11, from 6pm to 8pm.
The consultation ends on February 14.