When the going gets tough...

A college place is only the first hurdle for many rural teenagers. Then they have to get there.
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The Independent Online

You live in the country and have just taken your GCSEs. You'd now like to move into further education or specialist training. But there's a problem: how will you travel to and from wherever you want to study?

You live in the country and have just taken your GCSEs. You'd now like to move into further education or specialist training. But there's a problem: how will you travel to and from wherever you want to study?

According to research we carried out into young people in the West Country, published today, more than 40 per cent said that transport played a part in their decisions about further education. The 15 and 16-year-olds had worries about how long the journey would take and about the distance and the routing of buses.

Many were concerned about the reliability of services and the problems of late and early finishing. And, importantly, the highest proportion of young people expressing concerns about transport were in the schools with the lowest staying-on rates.

At 16, rural young people have to rethink their transport arrangements. More often than not, the school they have attended doesn't have a sixth form. The distances young people need to travel to get to further education vary substantially. Some may be contemplating round-trips of only five or six miles; others of 40 to 50 miles.

The obligation on local education authorities to lay on transport ceases when children reach 16, although many continue to offer subsidised bus passes or special buses.

So, even if the local secondary school does have a sixth form, a seat on the school bus is no longer guaranteed for those staying on. If all the seats on the bus are taken by younger pupils, sixth formers must make their own arrangements to get to school. If there is room on the bus, the seat which was previously free now has to be paid for (with concessions for young people living in households receiving benefit).

For young people travelling further away to a sixth form or college, the transport is rarely as comprehensive as that provided for younger pupils. Many young people find they have to travel five or six miles to a pick-up point for college buses, well beyond walking distance from home. A few use bicycles or mopeds if they can find a safe place to leave their bikes. More often than not, parents or friends provide the link.

Starting work or training presents even greater transport problems for young people living in the country.

One young woman who caught the bus to her training scheme said her choice had been constrained by the routing of the bus. She could not consider a placement in a nearby town because no bus went there. To start with she was lucky, and was able to fit her working hours to the bus timetable. But when she changed jobs, her new employers refused to let her do this. In such situations, young people turn to parents and friend for lifts.

One young man had to turn down a job because it would have meant his mother driving him to work starting at 5am. Instead he had gone for his second choice, starting at 6am, still relying on a lift from his mother.

Even when public transport can be used to get to education, work or training, more than 60 per cent of young people say cost is a problem. Several young people asked why they had to pay full adult fares when they weren't covered by the minimum wage legislation applying to adults.

Faced with these options, it was no surprise that almost all the 15 and 16-year-olds wanted to learn to drive as soon as they reached 17.

Dr Pamela Storey is a research officer and Julia Brannen is professor in the sociology of the family at the Thomas Coram Research Foundation, Institute of Education, London

'Young people and transport in rural areas', is published for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by the National Youth Agency. Order on tel 0116 285 3700, £12.95 including p&p

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