Wednesday 12 September 2018 / 7:01 AM Angela Rayner / Education

Labour forces Government u-turn on “cash for cabs” grammar school scheme

Following Labour pressure, Ministers have quietly abandoned plans to spend £20 million transporting children up to 30 miles every day by taxi to attend the nearest grammar school, but have returned the earmarked cash to the Treasury rather than reinvest it in schools.

The plan, announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the 2017 Budget, had been set to cost in excess of £5 million a year and up to £5,000 a year per pupil. Hammond had told the Commons in his Budget speech: “Pupils typically travel three times as far to attend selective schools, so we will extend free school transport to include all children on free school meals who attend a selective school because we are resolved that talent alone should determine the opportunities a child enjoys.”

But in a ministerial answer to a Parliamentary Question from Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner MP, the Government has now admitted that “The Department is not … taking forward plans for free transport specifically for children who are eligible for free school meals who attend their nearest selective school.”

In a subsequent answer today, the Department for Education said that the allocated funds had simply been returned to the Treasury rather than reinvested in schools.

Angela Rayner has repeatedly criticised the spending in the context of wider cuts to schools, proposing that the funding be used to reverse other cuts to school transport for disadvantaged children.

The Tories had previously cut £6 million from the school transport budget in 2015-16, which had supported a far greater number of pupils to get to local schools by bus. The cut led to disabled teenagers losing the right to get help for travel to sixth form or college, pupils being forced to move schools and families charged hundreds of pounds extra.

The Local Government Ombudsman revealed at the time that they had received a 63% increase in serious cases relating to school transport. In one case, a teenager with severe autism lost his transport allowance and was told that he should get to school by walking for a mile through an unlit area with no footpath, boarding a train and then changing to a bus, even though the boy’s condition meant that he had a significantly reduced awareness of danger and a problem with loud noises.

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“It’s incredible that the Tories ever thought this was a good use of taxpayers’ money at a time when they are breaking their promises to protect funding for all children. It is unbelievable that this money has now just been handed back to the Treasury rather than reinvested in schools that face the worst cuts in a generation.

“Even as they tried to divert millions into their grammar school vanity project, disabled teenagers were left to fend for themselves and other kids are forced to change school for lack of transport. It tells you everything you need to know about the Tories’ real priorities.

“It is clearer than ever that only a Labour government will invest in all of our children and guarantee schools the resources they need.”