The cost of travel for Sheffield's A-level students should be subsidised

A group of last year’s GCSE students came back to visit my Sheffield school this week and left me fairly alarmed at how much their A-Level studies are costing them.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 8:37 am
Updated Wednesday, 2nd October 2019, 3:55 pm
Student travel should be subsidised

We pride ourselves in providing good quality, free education in this country and it’s now the law that some kind of learning or training is compulsory until children reach the age of 18 – but the costs to some families rocket when they enter Y12.

Many children between Y7 and Y11 attending my school have to travel on the bus because it pulls in from a very large catchment.

Those who live more than three miles away – and that’s a large chunk of the school population – are

entitled to apply for a bus pass that gives them free travel on the buses heading to and from school.

I spoke to some this week and it seems to work fairly well; they apply for a photopass online during the summer and they are turned around quickly so they arrive in the post in time for the September start.

No such free travel pass is available for students aged 16-18, though, meaning that many A-Level students are often being hit by the same travel fees as those heading to work.

A travel pass is available for students in full time education that offers single journeys for 80p.

But the students who visited me this week have to get to two buses to school and two buses back

home, so the discounted fairs still add up to £16 a week – making it cheaper to buy an adult pass in some areas.

Take this over a term and it means some families are forking out £256 in travel fees in the run up to

Christmas just to get their child to and from school – and that’s before school requests for books and stationery are taken into account.

The biggest problem with this is the disparity it leads to within our city, because not all children need to get the bus to attend a Sixth Form. And in many cases it is the families who live in the more deprived areas that are facing these transport costs, and I just hope it has not put any people off studying their chosen subjects.

Sixth Form provision in Sheffield is not distributed evenly throughout the city and there are large parts – particularly in the south-east – that are missing these local opportunities.

In the north of the city, students who have attended schools such as Stocksbridge and Ecclesfield have no sixth form to move onto, and the Y12 provision at Bradfield has stopped this year.

There is a concentration of sixth form provision at schools in the west and south-west of Sheffield, and they tend to be in the more affluent suburbs.

Now, if you live locally to these schools and can walk there then that’s all well and good. But the students I chatted to this week have a four-mile commute – this might not sound a long way as the crow flies but it means a two-bus journey for all of them, and the strain on the pocket that comes with it.

It just doesn’t seem right that we are encouraging students to attend sixth forms to study A Levels but then expecting them to pay out hundreds of pounds in transport fees just because they don’t live near a school that has a Year 12.

If staying in education is a legal requirement until 18, the bus policy for those under 16 should surely

be extended for another two years.

What makes the situation in Sheffield even more annoying is that this is not the case in some other

places.

In London, students in Y12 and Y13 are entitled to a 16+ Zip Oyster card that gives them free travel on buses so they can get to their place of study or training free of charge.

Even across the Pennines, a new scheme called Our Pass has kicked off, allowing 16-18 years olds free bus travel across the Greater Manchester region so they can travel, work and learn for a one-off admin fee of £10.

It cannot be right that Sheffield kids who want to stay on at school end up paying hundreds of pounds every term simply to get to the seat in their classroom.

What’s even worse is that it’s often a charge being levied on children from particular areas, where children are forced to leave their existing school and move to one where there is a sixth form.

The government need to look at providing subsidies to all bus companies so that it’s not just kids in

Manchester and London that can enjoy free travel to their place of study.