Boy barred from school bus because he lives 300 metres nearer another school

A boy is being denied a place on a bus to his school because he lives 300 metres nearer another school.

Five-year-old Rhys Ellis lives in the tiny community of Dernol, near Llangurig in Powys, roughly eight miles from both Llanidloes CP School and Rhayader Church in Wales Primary School.

Powys County Council provides pupils free transport to their nearest or catchment school — but because Rhys lives slightly nearer Rhayader, he cannot use his school’s minibus.

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Some 592 people have signed his mum Jenni’s petition calling for the council to allow flexibility when the difference in distance between a pupil’s home and the nearest schools is less than a mile. The council says its policy went through a thorough consultation.

Jenni, 33, said: “Rhys knows somebody somewhere won’t let him on the bus. A few times we’ve gently said, ‘How would you feel if you went to Rhayader.’ He just looked confused and said, ‘But my friends go to Llanidloes, I want to go to Llanidloes.’

“The choice could be moving house — we’ve been here 30 years and it’s not something we want to consider — or it could be my husband or me giving up work or reducing our hours, so we’re more available to drive Rhys to school. Or it could be Rhys moving school. For the sake of 300 metres you’d think the council could apply a bit of compassion.”

Jenni says the minibus to Llanidloes travels “right past our pickup point” in Dernol and has empty seats. She described the council’s policy as a “blunt” measure of distance which “lets down” rural families.

The family live in a Llanidloes postcode and many of Rhys’s friends attend Llanidloes primary because his pre-school education was in the area. He knows none of the children in Rhayader.

Jenni says her reluctance to send Rhys to another school is not a reflection on Rhayader. She pointed to a study cited by the MacArthur Foundation, showing evidence of how school moves can hinder a child’s progress.

She said: “When Powys County Council closed Llangurig School in 2008, it was agreed during the consultation process that there would ‘always be a place in Llanidloes primary school for the children of Llangurig’.

“As a direct result of the closure of Llangurig school, there is now an invisible line on the map meaning different houses in Dernol are allocated to different ‘nearest suitable’ schools.”



Rhys Ellis' parents struggle to take him from Dernol to Llanidloes
Rhys Ellis’ parents struggle to take him from Dernol to Llanidloes each morning

Jenni added: “From age 11 Rhys will have to attend Llanidloes High School, and ridiculous as it may sound, will be entitled to travel on the very same minibus which he is currently not being allowed to.”

She has calculated that driving Rhys to Llandidloes each day will see an extra 7.5t of carbon emitted over seven years. Jenni believes the council is failing to promote sustainable travel.

The mum went through two stages of an appeal against the council’s decision on Rhys’ travel, but both were rejected.

“We weren’t satisfied with their explanation,” she said. “It didn’t explain any of the things we’d raised. They just said it was about the distance. We’d provided a peer-reviewed study about moving children between schools and the impact that can have on development, and they just dismissed it without any grounds.

“We do not think Powys County Council are listening to the views of children or rural communities or taking their best interests into account and we believe the transport policy should cater for the actual needs of learners in Powys rather than provide the bare minimum required by law.”

Jenni said she was surprised by the number of people who signed the petition and told her they had been struggling in similar circumstances.

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It comes after Montgomeryshire MS Russell George spoke out in September about the “increased amount of people raising issues concerning Powys County Council’s provision of free home to school transport”.

Mr George said the process should allow “individuals’ unique circumstances” to be taken into consideration. He argued the Welsh Government should provide funding to cover the costs the council would incur from more flexible travel for pupils in rural areas.

The council said it does not comment on individual cases but its school transport policy was subject to public consultation with more than 330 responses, including from parents and school governors.

“The consultation findings and the final version of the policy were considered and approved by cabinet in September 2020,” said a council spokesman.

“In line with the policy, Powys County Council is committed to providing all qualifying Powys learners with free home to school transport to their nearest or catchment school.

“Entitlement to free school transport will be decided by The Corporate Transport Unit. Where a request is refused, parents/carers will be advised of the reason(s) not to award free transport.

“Parents/carers have a right of appeal against a decision not to award the provision of free school transport for their child.

“If the appeal is declined, parents/carers have a right to appeal this decision by sending a letter of appeal within two weeks… Appeals will be heard by a portfolio holder. The appeal will be arranged and supported by the authority’s legal services.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said it funds local authorities through the local Government settlement “to provide a wide range of services within their area determined by local need”.

He added: “Local authority funding is distributed through a formula that takes account of the higher cost of delivering some services in rural areas.”

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