An influential committee of MPs has called for youngsters who live close to rural schools in Sussex to be given greater access to free bus travel.

Under current rules, children under eight who live within two miles of school are not automatically entitled to free travel.

For those over eight, the tough criteria handed to the local education authorities, which pay for travel, apply to any child living within three miles of their school.

Now the Rural Affairs Select Committee is calling for a change in the outdated rule, which was introduced in 1944.

The Government has ordered a review and MPs are pressing for more flexible criteria.

This would take into account local circumstances rather than having a crude cut-off point.

In a report on rural education, the committee said transport was critical to the success of education in these areas.

MPs said the rules on transport were out of date and did not reflect current realities.

The committee, which includes Brighton Pavilion MP David Lepper, said: "It is often unsafe for children to walk two or three miles to school, even if accompanied, mainly because of far heavier traffic than could have been imagined when the legislation was introduced."

MPs also highlighted anomalies - the family of a child who lives 3.1 miles from school gets free transport while one who lives 2.9 miles away does not.

The report, which painted an upbeat picture of the Government's commitment to rural education, said: "We urge the Government to overhaul radically the current arrangements."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed a review was under way.

Friday June 6, 2003