Uncertainty over school bus seats for September due to Covid restrictions
PUBLISHED: 19:06 05 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:56 06 August 2020
Edward Starr Photographer
Families have been warned spare school bus seats will be “limited” from September due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.
Norfolk County Council sells spare school bus seats to families who want to send a child to a school that isn’t their nearest.
But the council has said it does not yet know how many of these it will be able to offer in the new school term, due to a lack of guidances from government on how safety measures must work.
Parents and carers of the 420 children who had spare seats last year have been written to by the council, to inform them capacity may be “limited” from September.
It comes after Suffolk families hit out at their county council after some found out the news on social media - despite the council saying it had written to 225 families who were part of the scheme last year.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said social distancing will not apply on dedicated school and college transport - meaning pupils will not have to abide by the one metre plus rule.
But students may have to wear face coverings and schools and colleges may be asked to stagger start and finish times, and keep children within their ‘bubbles’.
The DfE has also reportedly secured millions of pounds for extra buses, but the council said it had not received any information about additional funding.
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We’ve been working hard to make sure government guidelines can be followed to help keep children safe on school transport when term starts in September, and that all children who are entitled to free transport will have a place.
“We understand the pressures faced by families and as always we need to prioritise transport for those who are eligible. We have written to parents who pay to send their child to a school outside of their catchment to let them know we will provide a seat wherever possible, but we expect spare seats will be more limited than usual because of restrictions imposed by the government as a result of the virus. Any extra funding from government towards the safety measures required due to the pandemic would be very welcome.”
Dan Roper, Liberal Democrat county councillor, added: “I have long argued that there is insufficient capacity in our school bus network. As a result families have previously missed out on school transport.
“If extra funding is available it is vital that there is a school bus place for every child who needs one.”
And Mike Smith-Clare, Labour group county councillor, said: “The pandemic has illustrated the fragility of Norfolk’s transport network - and the impact it can have on the lives of young learners.
“Access to learning must be a given - it cannot become a lottery.”
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