Neath Port Talbot Council says "no hidden agenda" in faith school bus row
EDUCATION chiefs have denied there is any hidden agenda behind moves to end free transport for many children attending a Catholic comprehensive school.
Neath Port Talbot Council has pointed out it is prepared to spend millions of pounds of its own money to help develop a new school on the St Joseph's Comprehensive School site in Port Talbot.
The council today starts consulting 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.
This has been heavily criticised by the head teacher of St Joseph's, the county's largest voluntary aided school and its sole Catholic secondary.
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Eugene Scourfield claimed it "smacked of discrimination on religious grounds".
Meanwhile, cabinet scrutiny member Linet Purcell said the idea would regarded with horror by anyone who cared about the purpose and function of faith schools.
Councillor Lella James also referred to the new super- school, which the authority is proposing to build in Baglan to replace Sandfields, Glan Afan and Cwrt Sart comprehensive schools.
She pointed to an officers' report that acknowledged the effect of the transport changes at voluntary-aided schools could be to push pupil numbers up at mainstream schools.
"Is it (the proposed bus changes) because you are concerned about the new super-school — that there wouldn't be enough pupils?" she asked.
"I'm wondering if there's something else behind this.
"It's the only Catholic comprehensive school in Neath Port Talbot.
"Children from Neath want to go there. I don't think it should be penalised."
Head of resources and commissioning Andrew Thomas said: "There isn't anything hidden.
"There is no hidden agenda with the proposals around the super-school.
"We are in proposals with the diocese about building a new St Joseph's school and we have reached agreement in principle."
"We are in discussions about us spending millions of pounds of council money to provide sustainable Catholic education within the county," he added.