YOUNGSTERS attending Gwent’s only Welsh secondary school which accepts pupils from out of county are calling for Newport council officers to meet them over a three-fold hike in bus fees.
Hannah Howells and Charlotte Hyde, both 16, from Newport, have been educated in the medium of Welsh since they were four and wish to carry on to sixth form in their chosen language at Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Pontypool.
But they were left angry and confused when, on July 2, they received letters from Newport council notifying them of new transport charges, priced at £347 a year – up from £80 last year, they say.
The first instalment is due at the end of this month. The cost comes despite a £150 travel grant from the council.
Efforts to write to and contact Newport council via social media have not worked, say the pair, who want to meet officers along with their classmates to discuss the issue.
“It came as a massive shock, there was no warning,” said Miss Howells, who has finished her GCSEs and plans to go onto sixth form in order to become a Welsh teacher.
“The council didn’t say why it has gone up so much. It was a fair amount last year.
“We want to carry on learning in the medium of Welsh,” said Miss Howells, who estimates around 50 pupils travel daily from Newport to Pontypool.
“We have two sets of twins in our year whose parents will have to pay £694 alone per year for transport and there are two years of sixth form. If we want to carry on in Welsh medium education we have no choice, Gwynllyw is the only school.
“The council is ignoring us, they haven’t given any advice on how to afford this,” she said. “A similar thing happened in Merthyr Tydfil and Swansea and the councils cancelled the increase. We don’t expect Newport council to cancel the whole amount but how are we meant to pay this?
“It’s our career and our future that’s going to be affected by this. It’s a stupid decision.”
Miss Hyde said it would be a struggle for her and her peers to switch to English for their A-levels at a closer Newport sixth form or college, as they’ve spent years learning technical terminology in Welsh.
Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw is expected to be full by 2017 and Gwent’s councils are currently looking at options for building a new secondary school elsewhere.
A spokeswoman for Newport City Council understands that some students may have been affected by an increase in the cost of their school transport, but it is only fair for all pupils to pay the same amount to access post-16 education provided by the council.
This change in fees had to be made as part of Newport City Council’s requirement to save £25 million over three years, and was one of over 100 savings implemented for this financial year in order to save nearly £9 million.
Councillor Debbie Wilcox, Newport City Council’s cabinet member for education said: “There is never the right time to increase prices, and we understand that central austerity measures are causing hardships to our residents and pupils too.
“That is why I will oversee a phased implementation of this programme which means that the current level of subsidy is not removed in full until September 2017.
“I will also be looking at a hardship fund for those students who are most affected by the changes.”
The spokeswoman added all post-16 students who qualify for home to school transport assistance are still eligible to receive a discretionary travel grant of £150 per academic year towards the actual cost of their travel to and from school.