Council tells students to study from home as it cuts transport

Measures could exclude vulnerable learners, says local principal

Measures could exclude vulnerable learners, says local principal

23 Feb 2024, 12:00

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Students in Birmingham have been advised to study from home more as their cash-strapped local authority axes local transport subsidies to balance its books.

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet will meet next week to agree its budget which includes savings worth £300 million.

Cuts to services targeted at sixth-form-age students risk excluding the most vulnerable students from education, a local principal has said.

Among over 200 proposed savings is a review of its non-statutory transport support for post-16 students.

Hikes in fees and cuts to services are forecast to save the council just over £7 million.

“We must be candid and recognise that this proposal involves a reduction on what is offered. That is not something the council wishes to do, but rather considers itself driven to by the current financial situation,” the council said.

If approved, the plans will see the fees paid by parents of post-16 students towards travel support, such as minibuses and taxis, increase from £780 to £1,028 per academic year.

The council issued a section 114 notice in September, effectively declaring bankruptcy.

City councillors were told to immediately stop all non-essential spending, reduce running costs, and not commit to new expenditure.

Local authorities are only obliged to provide transport support for children of mandatory school age. Sixth-form age students, including those with SEND, are not entitled to transport support from their local council.

The council is seeking savings in these “discretionary” services.

Kim Everton, executive principal of The Hive College, a specialist college in Birmingham, said over 50 per cent of her students currently used subsidised transport to get to college.

“All our learners have SEND and many of them come from low-income families with working parents. If this is removed, many learners will not be able to attend college and many will become NEET (not in education, employment, or training),” she said.

The council is recommending local colleges deliver more of its courses online to reduce the need for young people to travel. It also admits its cuts could lead to students choosing courses based on proximity, rather than career aspirations.

Birmingham is not alone in hiking charges on parents of SEND young people to help fill budget blackholes in local authority finances.

An FE Week investigation earlier this year found multiple examples of cash-strapped councils charging families as much as £933 per year towards travel to and from colleges.

Birmingham City Council has launched a consultation on its plans, but it closes ten days after the full council is due to approve the budget cuts.

A spokesperson told FE Week: “The council is in a challenging period due to its finances, and we understand it is an unsettling time for many of our residents.

“The children and young people’s travel service are already undertaking work to make savings in this area, primarily through a substantial re-tender exercise that was carried out during Summer 2023, these savings have been incorporated into the council’s savings.”

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