Parents who choose to send their children to grammar schools further away could have to foot the transport bill if a new policy change goes through.
Usually, Trafford council pays for a travel pass across the whole tram and bus network in the borough for certain children to get from home to school, free of charge.
The cost of one of these travel passes to the council is £378 per year.
Who gets one of these passes is assessed each year based on nationally-set criteria – including the distance travelled to school, family income, how safe the route is and whether a child has special educational needs or mobility issues.
Trafford council previously reserved the right to set its own criteria in order to extend this kind of transport help to other groups of pupils.
But now, a proposed change to policy means that if a child travels further to take up a grammar school place, their parents will have to pay for any travel costs themselves.
In effect this removes the council’s previously set criteria which allowed it to support children attending the nearest grammar school they were eligible to attend – even if that school was not the nearest qualifying school.
Council officers argued in a report that the cost to affected families to foot the bill for their own travel arrangements, while it may vary, will be less expensive ‘in many cases’ for a specific route than this catch-all pass the council currently provides.
It is understood the new policy would not affect low income families who are eligible for free school meals.
At an executive meeting this week, the authority approved the start of a public consultation so residents can have their say on the matter.
During that meeting, Coun Catherine Hynes, executive member for children’s services, confirmed: “If a child is travelling further than the nearest qualifying school, then they won’t be able to claim the travel assistance.”
She also confirmed the policy change would affect children who, for example, applied for multiple grammar schools and only got offered a place at one which was further away from home.
There are currently 120 families benefiting from the existing policy and all of them will be written to by the council as part of the consultation.
If all 120 families stop receiving that support it would save the council at least £45,000 a year.
The consultation is due to begin on Monday November 16 and last Sunday January 10 with a final decision from the council due in February.
If the policy change goes through, with feedback from residents taken into account, the changes would take effect from the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
During the executive meeting, Coun John Holden, Conservative representative for St Mary’s ward, asked to be reassured that the policy was not ‘targeting families who dare to choose and send their children to a grammar school rather than their nearest qualifying school’.
Coun Hynes replied: “That is absolutely not the intention at all. We do want to go out and consult on this and hear people’s views. It isn’t to discriminate at all and we will be listening to people’s views and taking them into account. It absolutely is not intended to put anybody into any hardship.”
Get breaking news first on the free Manchester Evening News app – download it here for your Apple or Android device. You can also get a round-up of the biggest stories sent direct to your inbox every day with the MEN email newsletter – subscribe here. And you can follow us on Facebook here.