Neath Port Talbot Council's free school bus withdrawal proposal "smacks of religious discrimination"
A SCHOOL head claims the threatened withdrawal of free buses for hundreds of pupils smacks of discrimination on religious grounds.
Neath Port Talbot Council will now consult on whether to stop paying for transport for pupils living more than two or three miles from a voluntary aided (Catholic or Church in Wales) school if there is a mainstream school nearer their home.
The proposal will save the authority an estimated £317,000. But it has already been attacked inside the council chamber — with one member speaking of her "horror" at the idea — and by the head of the county's largest voluntary-aided school.
Eugene Scourfield is head of St Joseph's Comprehensive in Port Talbot.
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He said the school would be the hardest-hit in the county. Because of its location, he said, it would not be the closest maintained school for anyone who lived more than three miles from a maintained school.
"It would disenfranchise the poorest Catholic families and take away their choice," he said. "Access to voluntary-aided school would be for those who could afford it.
"As such, this proposal does not ask us to play a part in reducing costs.
"It proposes to stop paying subsidised transport to anyone at all who wishes to attend a voluntary school in the local authority area.
"These two points smack of discrimination on religious grounds."
During yesterday's cabinet scrutiny committee meeting, Councillor Linet Purcell said: "Anyone who cares about the purpose and function of faith schools will regard this proposal with absolute horror."
However, officers said the council was in talks with the diocese to spend millions of pounds of the authority's cash in building a replacement for St Joseph's.
They also pointed out many non- Catholic parents chose to send their children to Catholic schools, meaning that decision was not based on religious beliefs.
Education director Karl Napieralla said the council was facing stark financial choices.
"Transport to voluntary aided schools is discretionary and some councils in the UK have already gone down this road," he said.
Consultation starts later this month.