§ 10. Mr. Haselhurst
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to ensure that local authority school transport plans are not restricting parental choice of school.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth
In December 1981, the Department issued a circular letter to all local education authorities on the relationship between school transport and choice of school. That advice is still current. A copy is in the Library of the House.
§ Mr. Haselhurst
Is my hon. Friend aware that sometimes the boundaries of catchment areas seem to be arbitrary and that it is possible for local authorities to deny free school transport by the simple expedient of not having a catchment area? Will he therefore undertake to review the present guidelines to ensure that no unfair discrimination is taking place?
§ Mr. Howarth
My hon. Friend has raised a particular case on behalf of his constituents, on which we are consulting the local education authority and which I shall consider very carefully. The Education Reform Act 1988 did not alter the duties and powers of local education authorities in relation to school transport, but we are most anxious to ensure that local education authorities, wherever they can, give parents practical support so that they can exercise an effective right of choice. As my hon. Friend asked, I shall keep the matter carefully under review.
§ Mr. Key
I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that as winter sets in the choice of parents is restricted not only by finance but by safety. I welcome the change in the law made by the Education Reform Act, but will he consider further extending the experiment by offering an education grant to local education authorities and schools under local management systems for schools to fund bus services, particularly in local areas, so that when they are not being used by pupils they can be used for the benefit of the community?
§ Mr. Howarth
I shall certainly reflect carefully on my hon. Friend's suggestion. He will be aware that the Education (No.2) Act 1986 requires that authorities should have regard to, among other matters, the age of the pupil and the nature of the route or alternative routes that he or she could reasonably be expected to take. That provision clearly asks authorities to have particular regard for safety.