OUTRAGE from families and campaigners has failed to foil plans to scrap free school transport for disabled youngsters.

Oxfordshire County Council is set to plough ahead with plans to introduce a charge for school transport, for students with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) aged 16 or older.

The council's cabinet will make a final decision on the controversial cost-cutting measure on Tuesday, but officers have recommended councillors approve the scheme.

Oxford city councillor Marie Tidball, who used free SEND transport while growing up elsewhere in the country, said her 'heart sank' when she heard the plan.

Writing in a blog post for the Oxford Human Rights Hub yesterday, Dr Tidball said: "I lived in a rural community and my physical disability made walking excruciating.

"These plans are causing huge anxiety for SEND students and their parents.

"The proposals will make consistent school attendance for SEND young people more difficult and reduce their independence."

Damian Haywood, chair of governors at Mabel Prichard School in Oxford, set up a petition rallying against the changes which gained more than 1,700 signatures.

Mr Haywood, whose son Matias attends the special school in Blackbird Leys, previously hailed the free service as a 'lifeline' and said its loss would be 'devastating'.

Matias turns 16 next year and will be among those set to miss out.

Currently 130 students with SEND use the council's free provision to get to and from school, which is offered if they attend their nearest suitable school.

But the new plan would see a charge brought in from September 2019, saving the council £330,000.

This means students can either find alternative transport, or pay between £352 and £658 for a 'spare seat', which will likely be the same provision they get at the moment.

The annual cost depends on distance from their school, with the latter price charged if they live more than three miles away.

The council plans to increase the cost of a spare seat by two per cent each year, in line with inflation.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail yesterday, its director of children's services Lucy Butler said the council had been providing 'over and above' the statutory requirements.

She added: "We simply can't afford to do that anymore.

"We want to reassure people that this is not withdrawing transport, but asking for a contribution towards the cost."

Students whose families cannot afford the cost - including those receiving free school meals - will not be charged, and others can apply for a government bursary.

Ms Butler said: "We will continue to work very closely with families to ensure the needs of the child are fully understood, so appropriate home-to-school arrangements can be put in place.

"The needs of children themselves will be paramount. Our aim remains to give every child a good start in life."

The council has set up a new 'travel training team', made up of three people who will assess affected families and advise them on their transport options.

It ran consultation in March and April and received 110 responses.

A report sent to the council's education scrutiny committee states that 21 responses accused the council of being 'discriminatory'.