FAMILIES who live in villages are being “disadvantaged” and having to spend hundreds of pounds to send their children to school, according to one mother.

Michaela Jeans has launched a petition calling on Hampshire County Council (HCC) to reverse a decision to charge parents whose children under the age of five need transport to get to their nearest school.

Currently pupils who are five - the compulsory school age – and over are given free transport if their nearest school is more than two miles away, but children who start school at the age of four are not entitled. Instead Hampshire County Council charges for a “privilege seat”.

This came to a shock to mum Michaela who lives in Sutton Scotney and has to send her children to South Wonston Primary School as there is not a school in the village.

While her six-year-old son Milo is able to ride the bus for free she has to pay £200 a term for her daughter Margo, aged four, to take the same transport or drive her to the school following the bus.

She said: “What the council are saying is that they cannot afford to get everyone to school. These charges are not working, rather than paying everyone is taking their kids to school.”

Michaela says that she has seen some parents put one child on the bus and follow the bus with their younger child to school.

“There is another issue with congestion at school pick up and drop off times, and the increasing carbon footprint that everyone is leaving having to take their children to school,” she continued.

The ruling, made in 2019, not only affects children going to South Wonston Primary, but families across the county.

“For so many reasons this is really unfair. Village kids are disadvantaged anyway compared to those that live in the city, what this is doing is disadvantaging them further,” Michaela said.

“It is not treating everyone equally, they (HCC) are thinking wealthy parents will pay then it will top the bus up.”

She added: “There is a free place for Margo at school, but there isn’t a one for her on the bus to get to school.”

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: “There are more than 180,000 school children in Hampshire and the county council funds home to school transport for approximately 10 per cent of those pupils, who meet nationally set criteria, at a cost of over £30 million every year. Among the criteria is that qualifying children should be of compulsory school age (which is the term following a child's fifth birthday), the home to school distance, the safety of the route and any special needs of the traveller.

“The county council limits its home to school transport provision to the statutory requirement. Like all local authorities, the county council has had to make some difficult decisions in response to the financial pressures from growing demand for social care for vulnerable children and adults, reduced levels of Government funding over the last decade - and now we face the considerable financial impact of Covid-19 with costs expected to amount to around £210 million over the next three years. Prior to the change in policy in 2019 there was discretionary transport provision, including providing transport before a child reached compulsory school age; that was removed following a major consultation.

“The charge for transport for Reception age children is waived for families meeting a low income threshold. If families require assistance with the charge parents and carers should contact school.transport@hants.gov.uk.”

To sign the petition, go to www.change.org/SchoolBusForAll.