CRITICS have convinced a council to scrap plans to charge disabled children for school transport.

The ‘appalling’ proposal was announced by Oxfordshire County Council in March last year, attracting widespread outrage and a petition which gained more than 2,000 signatures.

It would have seen charges brought in for school transport for students aged 16 or older, who have special educational needs or disabilities.

However, the controversial plan was officially ditched at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, after a cross-party group found an alternative way to make savings.

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Labour councillor Emma Turnbull, who was among those fighting against the plan, said at the meeting: “Councillors in all parties and none were horrified by the proposed policy.

“Yet, it took scrutiny proceedings and a full council motion to set up cabinet advisory group.

“All the way through, the cabinet fundamentally failed to grasp what was at stake for vulnerable young people, and just how petty their policy looked to our Oxfordshire residents, who were appalled that the most needy were being targeted."

If it went ahead, the plan would have come in in September and affected about 130 families.

It would have saved the council £330,000, with each pupil charged up to £730 a year for transport.

The council had previously defended the plan, highlighting how other councils had already scrapped free transport long ago.

However, Dr Turnbull told them: “We must always put our most vulnerable residents first.

“We cannot allow a perverse ‘race to the bottom’ logic – that other councils have cut this service, so we should too – to stifle our creativity and compassion.”

Last June, councillors heard impassioned pleas from parents of disabled children, which reduced the then-cabinet member for education to tears.

In a statement after the latest meeting, the county council said the ‘new approach’ was agreed without needing any changes to the policy for entitlement to free home to school transport.

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Its current cabinet member for education, Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, who chaired the cross-party group, said: “Giving every child access to education will always be our number one priority.

“We listened to the concerns of parents and schools and I am delighted to say that we have found a way to preserve that free school transport for those young people who need it while still managing to save money.”

The council worked with 14 special schools to identify the necessary £300,000 of savings for post-16 home to school transport, removing any need to change existing transport arrangements.

A separate fund has also been created, to provide transport for children’s after-school activities.

Instead of the controversial proposal, savings will be made by revising school routes to use vehicle capacity more effectively.

Bardwell School in Bicester has agreed to use its own school minibus to support home to school transport, and other schools will be encouraged to do the same.