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Diocese of Menevia fights ‘brutal’ Swansea school transport policy

Children attending Catholic schools in Swansea face having to pay for transport from September (PA)

The Diocese of Menevia is challenging a Swansea Council policy which will deny free transport to children attending Catholic schools.

From September this year, children starting at voluntary-aided Catholic and Anglican schools will no longer have free places on school buses if there is an alternative mainstream school closer to their home.

A test case is being brought by the diocese, Bishop Vaughan Catholic Comprehensive School, and “Child W”, a prospective student whose siblings currently attend the school with free transport which she would be deprived of.

They argue that the policy will also indirectly discriminate against black and ethnic minority (BME) children, who are 12 times more likely to attend a faith school than a Welsh language school in Swansea.

Bernard Stuart, the diocesan director of education, said: “Withdrawing free school transport from those who need it most will make the exercise of their choice to attend local Catholic schools completely impractical.

“We are hopeful the Court will see that and overturn this invidious policy.”

The policy also entails that the council will continue to provide free transport for children opting to attend Welsh language schools, even when there are closer alternative schools.

According to the diocese, almost a quarter of children in Swansea’s six denominational schools are of BME origin, compared to just 2% in the county’s Welsh language schools.

Laura Howden-Evans, bursar of Bishop Vaughan School, said: “The new policy is brutal. If it stands, its impact will be devastating on Swansea children seeking a Catholic education.”

Ms Howden-Evans said that a quarter of the school’s children relied on free transport, with over half living in the most deprived areas of Wales.

She said: “There is no justification for treating Catholic and Church of Wales schools differently from Welsh language schools when it comes to free transport.”

Swansea Council said the policy would only affect children starting at the school from September and that children who currently attended the school would continue to receive free transport.

A council spokesman said: “This is a test case about a decision regarding discretionary home to school transport which the council argues strongly is not discriminatory.

“Following a lengthy period of informal and formal consultation Swansea Council took a democratic and lawful decision to change its policy regarding home to school transport in July last year and we are vigorously defending that decision in court.”

The judicial review into the policy was being heard by a High Court judge at Swansea Civil Justice Centre today.