The axing of places on school buses for children will be reconsidered following a backlash from parents.

Oxfordshire County Council planned on withdrawing its Spare Seats scheme for pupils travelling from Middle Barton and The Bartons villages to Chipping Norton School.

It follows a furore last year when the council scrapped the scheme on nine routes, affecting more than 200 children including at Wheatley Park School, The Warriner in Bloxham and Wood Green in Witney.

Chipping Norton School.Chipping Norton School.
READ MORE: Oxfordshire council gets questioned over transport policies

The council says the scheme, which allows parents with children not eligible for free home-to-school transport to pay to use spare seats on school buses, is no longer cost neutral.

Leader of the Conservatives on the county council, Eddie Reeves, submitted a motion that was discussed at Tuesday's (June 9) full council meeting requesting the leader and relevant cabinet member(s) bring a report to cabinet to "address how existing numbers of school bus places can be maintained and, where possible, increased".

Eddie Reeves.Eddie Reeves. (Image: Oxfordshire County Council.)

Speaking out at the meeting, Mr Reeves said: "Either we think this council is in the business of making life easier for residents or it is in the business of making life more difficult.

"The reality is this is going to hammer certain families in this county.

"Parents themselves were only given two weeks notice of this sweeping change."

One parent at the meeting, Stuart Bartlett, said: "The loss of the Spare Seats bus scheme will have such a negative impact on our family.

"The prospect of having this route removed and leaving us with only a few weeks to find alternatives feels deeply, deeply unfair."

A parent spoke out at the meeting.A parent spoke out at the meeting. (Image: Oxfordshire County Council.)

Speaking to us, Asha Gill, a parent at the Marlborough School in Woodstock which has been affected by the changes, added: "Oxfordshire Council Council has left parents of children at the Marlborough School stranded when it comes to school transport.

"Pupils of the school generally come from small rural villages like Steeple Aston, Heyford Park, Lower Heyfords, Upper Heyfords, Bletchingdon, Shipton On Cherwell, Bunkers Hill which are very poorly served by public or any transport.

"Children in such villages have no other way to get to school - no public transport, no safe walking or cycling routes.

"Parents are happy to pay for a bus service, but the reality is that only Oxfordshire County Council has the oversight to organise it.

"Parents have tried to set up a parent-run bus service but it has simply been impossible - largely due to the the lack of help."

Councillor John Howson, cabinet member for Children, Education and Young People's Services said: "Oxfordshire County Council has a statutory duty to provide free school transport for a young person attending their nearest school.

"Following a public consultation exercise in 2014, the council changed its policy so as to provide free transport from Oxfordshire homes to the nearest available school.

"Previously where there have been buses with ‘spare’ seats (i.e. the number of eligible young people was lower than the capacity of the bus), such spare seats were offered to non-eligible young people.

"However, it is not cost effective to maintain a high level of spare or empty seats for young people who do not qualify for free transport.

John Howson.John Howson. (Image: Newsquest)

"Across the county, the number of eligible young people has reduced meaning the number of spare seats are no longer available."

Conservative councillor Nigel Simpson thanked officers for trying to find a solution to the problem but also said "removing the buses will force more children into cars".

Mr Reeves added: "I'm reliably informed that ZEZ fines between April 2022 and last month are now in excess of a million pounds.

"There is money surely to tackle this problem.

"It will take creativity and it will take resolve on the cabinet's part and I urge them so to do."

The motion passed was passed by councillors unanimously.

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About the author

Noor is the Local Democracy Reporter for Oxfordshire who covers political stories from across the county. 

She began working as a journalist in Oxford in September 2023 having graduated from the University of Oxford.

Noor was trained at the News Associates journalism school and can be found on X through the handle @NoorJQurashi