CHILDREN are walking miles to catch over-crowded buses when a special service direct to their school is running with empty seats.

Dorset County Council is refusing to sell seats on the 71a service to new pupils of St Peter’s because the service is being phased out.

Now youngsters from the Three Legged Cross and West Moors areas have to walk to Ferndown to get the 769 service.

But it will be four years before the more convenient 71a service disappears completely.

Parent Michael Bratchford has three sons at St Peter’s, a Catholic secondary school, but only one is allowed to catch the bus.

He told the Daily Echo: “I have a son in Year 10 who can travel on the bus but one in sixth form and another in Year 7 who are not allowed.

“I didn’t realise this was going to happen when I applied to St Peter’s for my youngest son and I am not the only one in this situation.

“I think many people would have been forced to consider schools nearer to home if they knew this was going to happen.”

Assistant head at St Peter’s, Paula Hubbort, said the school is campaigning to the council so that empty seats can be used.

She told the Daily Echo: “I understand that cuts have to be made but if the seats could be purchased it would give families time to make alternative arrangements.”

She said the school is also taking advice from the Portsmouth Diocese due to concerns over cuts to bus services to denominational schools.

Toni Coombs, Dorset County Council’s Cabinet member for education, said: “Dorset County Council has a duty to provide free transport for school pupils under 16 who meet certain criteria, we no longer provide transport to schools on religious grounds as this is outside that duty.

“In order to provide some con-tinuity for existing pupils already attending St Peter’s is was agreed to allow those children to continue to receive transport until they reach the end of Y11 as a transition arrangement.

“Each year the numbers will naturally reduce and the size of the buses will reduce in line with the reducing numbers of passengers.

“Solent Coaches operate the route, but as sub-contractors, cannot legally sell spaces on this bus service. Other schools in this position have made arrangements to subsidise school transport themselves with contributions from parents.”