A FURIOUS headteacher says Essex County Council should be ashamed of itself for a u-turn which could cost some parents £900 a year, or more.

The head of Brightlingsea’s Colne School angrily criticised county councillors, accusing them of breaking an earlier promise over free school buses for pupils from Wivenhoe.

A new council policy means from next year, Essex children starting at a fresh school will only get free transport to their nearest one, instead of to any in their catchment area.

Colne School principal Nardeep Sharma says he’d been assured County Hall would make an exception for his Wivenhoe pupils, since so many had chosen his school, rather than to the nearer Colchester Academy.

This week the school learned this was not the case – and parents of children starting in 2015 would have to pay as much as £900 a year for each child.

Mr Sharma said: “I’m shocked and saddened by the actions of the council, a body I have previously had no reason to mistrust. Now I do so wholly.

“This completely undermines parental choice. Councillors have misled parents – the people who elected them. In my opinion, they should be ashamed of their conduct.”

Last autumn, the council announced the new policy, aimed at saving £25million a year, would come into force in September 2015.

Colne School is about six miles from Wivenhoe – two miles further than Colchester Academy, though parents say congestion means the journey time is about the same.

Colne School was rated “outstanding” by Ofsted at its last inspection.

Colchester Academy was given an unflattering “requires improvement” assessment.

Mr Sharma said after three meetings with the council on the issue, he was shocked by the news.

He said:“Budgets are tight in all public organisations, but they are equally tight in parents’ pockets. I’m deeply concerned parents’ rights have been taken away.

“They will have to choose a school, based on what they can afford, rather than the school of their choice.”

But the  councillor in charge of Education at County Hall has denied ever promising to make an exception for Colne School’s Wivenhoe pupils.

Last night Tory county councillor Ray Gooding told the Gazette suggestions it would continue to fund the buses was down to a misunderstanding.

He said at a meeting in February it had been suggested Wivenhoe Town Council might “put some money into a pot” to help subsidise the buses.

He added: “It would seem some of those present at the meeting misunderstood this proposal and felt the county council would use funds which would otherwise be spent transporting children to Colchester Academy to support the cost of transporting non-entitled children to the Colne School.

“This is not the case. We have adopted a new policy, which will be applied fairly and consistently across the county for new applicants from September 2015.

“There is no basis for making an exception in the case of Wivenhoe and setting a precedent that could have far-reaching and significant financial implications.”