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18th Oct, 2021

Worcestershire parents' travel concerns after law change sees Home to School transport capacity slashed

CONCERNED parents have revealed their worries about changes to home to school transport which they say will lead to them struggling to get their children to school.

Alterations to guidance which means local authorities have to limit the amount of fee-paying passengers on buses mean there will be less capacity on home to school transport.

One mum from Droitwich who contacted us said it affected at least 23 pupils in the town and surrounding area and looked likely to have a similar effect in other towns and city across Worcestershire.

Her son has a place at Pershore High School and was previously picked up from Droitwich town centre in the morning and was dropped back there in the afternoon.

She said: “In the past children out of catchment can purchase a vacant seat on the school coaches that leave from Droitwich to Pershore High School and St Nicholas Middle School.

“Children living in the catchment are allocated seats first which is fair. However the change in legislation has meant that now the county council can only ‘sell’ 20 per cent of the vacant seats.

“It means there will be empty seats on school buses while parents are now having to drive many unnecessary miles to take and pick up their children from school.

“When the Government is stating it wants the country to go net carbon zero it seems completely backwards it then passes legislation that discourages vehicle sharing.

“The pupils have already a lot of disruption over the past 18 months so to have this now when they are due to get back to some kind of normality is extremely frustrating.”

She used to pay around £500 per year for the school bus pass but to put alternative travel arrangements in place – such as private group coach – could cost families up to four times more – between £6.20 and £10 per day.

She said she had contacted Coun Marcus Hart and other parents who were now scrambling around to find alternative transport in time for their children to go back to school.

She also hit out at the fact she was only informed about the situation so close to the start of the new academic year.

Another parent from Cofton Hackett, whose children attend Waseley Hills High School, is in the catchment area but is having the same problems.

She said there were 16 pupils at least affected in the local area and the cost of alternative arrangements would also be determined on the size of coaches available.

If they, collectively, had to pay for a 51-seat coach, the cost of the vacant 35 seats would have to be spread across the 16 pupils, sending costs spiralling.

She said: “We understand parents who cannot afford to take their children to school get priority and we do not mind paying a bit extra – but when you are negotiating a contract privately as a group of parents, you cannot get the same deals as a large organisation, like a local authority.

“We also would have had a better chance of sorting something out had we been notified earlier in the summer – we only found out when friends of ours received the letter so technically we have not even been officially told about the situation and term starts on Monday.

“Some parents also have jobs which mean they are unable to do school runs – one person we know has been in tears with worry about how she will get her children to school.”

Worcestershire County Council says the changes will have no effect on pupils entitled to Home to School Transport under its Home to School Transport policy, which includes those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

But it added this year had seen a higher than normal increase in applications for Home to School transport from parents entitled to transport and from parents wishing to purchase vacant available. This has led to less capacity to offer those vacant seats under the discretionary scheme.

Seats which are available will not be confirmed until much later than usual – which could be from mid to late September – a fortnight after the term starts.

It added more than 90 per cent of all new and existing students had already had their school transport arrangements allocated.

And it claimed a small number – less than one per cent of all pupils – who had previously taken advantage of the Vacant Seats scheme had been unable to do so again this academic year.

Coun Marcus Hart, Cabinet Member for Education, said: “The new school term is an incredibly busy time for all involved, and we will always look to help as many children get safely to school as we possibly can.

“This year’s changes in legislation and the increased take up of Home to School Transport mean that we aren’t able to offer as many vacant seats as we have previously.

“Our teams are working hard to ensure we are able to confirm seats that are available as early into the term as we can.

“We appreciate the logistical issues that this will cause for parents and families and we will do all we can to assist where possible, including liaising with the operators about what they are able to provide.

The Worcestershire Transport Department is advising parents to ensure alternative travel arrangements are available in time for the start of the new academic term if they have not had a place on transport confirmed.

When completing their application, parents are informed that alternative arrangements should always be considered in case a temporary vacant seat is withdrawn.

During the application process, it is made clear, temporary vacant seats can be withdrawn at any time without notice.

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