FEARS have been raised over the post-GCSE education of students in one of England’s most rural areas after being told they can no longer catch a council-run bus service to the colleges all their predecessors have attended.

While students from the Upper Dales already attending sixth-form, further education and vocational colleges in Darlington will be able to continue buying a £600 bus pass from North Yorkshire County Council for subsidised travel, those set to start there in September have been told they are only eligible for assistance to Craven College in Skipton - as it is the nearest college.

The ruling by County Hall officials has left the families of students in villages such as Hawes, Bainbridge and Aysgarth dumbfounded as there is no public transport to Skipton from the area and the move would mean students having to cross mountain passes twice daily through the winter months.

In a response to concerns, the council emphasised transport assistance was only available to students attending their catchment school or the nearest college to their home address offering a course that the authority considers suitable to a student’s career choice, or that is a pre-requisite for entry into higher education.

The AA’s online routeplanner states while the distance between Hawes and Skipton is 9.3 miles less than that to Darlington, it takes 59 minutes to the former and 60 minutes to the latter. Locals say in winter the journey time to Skipton would be far longer and the students already leave Hawes for Darlington at 6.50am every day.

A council official specialising in post-16 school transport wrote: “Parents are also given the right to appeal by emailing the reasons why the student is attending a particular college. The case then will be looked at by senior officers to see if there are grounds to agree the request and we will let them know the decision in writing.”

Hawes councillor Jill McMullon said students had been stunned by an apparent unannounced policy change by the council after being accepted on courses in Darlington.

She said the Little White Bus community service had been set up specifically to take students from Wensleydale to Leyburn for a connecting service to Darlington.

Cllr McMullon said: “This policy is putting students from the Upper Dales at a huge disadvantage at a time in their lives that that should be exciting.

“It would be hugely expensive and unaffordable for some of the families of students from the area to have to fully fund their college transport.

“As there are no alternative transport services and their parents work full time it would impossible for them to attend another college. This needs to be put right.”