GENERATIONS of students are facing the prospect of being denied the school of their choice as cost-cutting threatens to discriminate against their faith.
The decision, due to be taken on Thursday, runs the risk of ending a 50-year cherished relationship between a Teesside primary school and the secondary academy that has successfully continued its pupils’ learning.
School authorities are asking councillors to reconsider moves that will end free school transport for many pupils attending faith schools, including Catholic and Church of England establishments.
Around 40 pupils a year will no longer be able to receive the current financial support that allows them to move up from St Joseph’s Primary School, Norton, to St Michael’s Catholic Academy, Billingham.
Only those who receive free school meals or can afford the fares will be able to enjoy the brand new, multi-million pound facility just opened for students.
Those pupils willing to attempt the three-mile walk will be faced with the dangers of crossing the busy A19 or using an underpass considered locally to be unsafe and unsuitable for children.
The proposals, designed to save Stockton Council thousands of pounds, have been greeted with anger by hundreds of parents and members of the community, who are planning a protest demonstration at the cabinet meeting, due to be held at 4.30pm, at the Baptist Tabernacle, Stockton.
Executive Head of St Joseph’s RC Primary School Mary Tate said: “Over 100 concerned and anxious parents attended a series of meetings with officers of the local authority as they are concerned they will not be able to afford the transport costs to attend a Catholic secondary school.
“We are saddened for many families as this will bring the treasured relationship between St Joseph’s and St Michael’s to an end. Many families have attended a Catholic school for up to three generations but will not be unable to in the future.”
Head of School at St Michael’s Andrew Ramsey added: “We would like the council to recognise that the consultation process has been defective and that the policy would be discriminatory to the Catholic community.
“We are saddened the local authority did not communicate with either school about this proposal, particularly as they were fully aware of the decades-long relationship that they are effectively dismantling. We feel demoralised, dismayed and excluded.”
Mr Ramsey said there were also concerns for local residents as such a change could increase traffic levels around St Michael’s, an area that was not suited to the extra number of cars that might be generated by parents choosing to drop-off their children.
Mr Ramsey added: “We understand that the local authority is required to make financial savings, however we feel it is wrong and deeply unjust that families and children of faith schools have been identified to provide such a saving.”
If agreed on Thursday, the policy would come into effect in September 2017 and would affect current Year 5 pupils.