The National Secular Society has branded school transport a “a hotbed of separatism and religious discrimination” after Catholic and non-Catholic children were prevented from travelling on the same bus to school.
Northumberland County Council has stopped the children from travelling together because Catholic children travelling to the Bedlington's St Benet Biscop School are allowed to ride the bus for free while other children travelling to the school don’t qualify for the funds.
Teachers and parents have expressed outrage at the introduction of a separate schoolbus
The move has provoked an outcry from parents, one of whom compared the separation with South Africa’s “apartheid”.
Cherie Nelson, originally from Cape Town, said she was planning to take the issue to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
“It is wrong in every sense – how can the council think they are doing nothing wrong? She told the News Post Leader.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said the council should not be funding transport to religious schools in the first place.
“It is religious discrimination of the worst and most despicable kind – the sort that keeps children apart and creates needless differences between them."
Con Todd, Headteacher at Bedlington's St Benet Biscop Catholic High School said he was “disappointed” that the children were being separated and has asked the council not to do this.
The school’s vice-chairman of governors, Wayne Daley, also county councillor for Cramlington North told the Journal Live: “I am also submitting an official complain to the Equalities Commission, because while the decision might be legal, I believe that in practice it is discriminatory.”
A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council said the separate buses had been brought in to cut costs, as they had been using much larger buses than were needed to take the Catholic children to school. It said it had no duty to provide free transport for non-entitled pupils.