Bucks County Council (BCC) is coming under heavy criticism from parents across Buckinghamshire in response to their handling of school bus pass allocations.
As children returned to school last week, many parents had still not received their bus passes, prompting the council to release the following statement:
“Copies of school bus passes are being emailed out to parents as a temporary measure and hard copies have been sent to schools to be handed out on Wednesday 4 September. Children will be able to travel without a pass into school today and, if necessary, until Friday 13 September.”
Further investigation revealed this to be the tip of the iceberg.
Although the online portal for applying for school bus passes, either free if eligible, or paid-for, opens in March, most parents had still not heard whether their applications had been successful by the late August bank holiday – just ten days before the new term began.
Siobhán Adams, who has two children of secondary school age, and lives near Beaconsfield, told this paper:
“As time ticked on I became more anxious. By late August I messaged other parents to ask if they had received their notification yet and was surprised to hear that no one had. Many parents called the council and they were sometimes on hold for up to an hour. It was very frustrating.”
Siobhán finally learnt the day before school began that her daughter had not received a place on a paid-for school bus.
A parent from the Winslow area told us a similar tale. She said:
"I'm still in a position where my children haven't got a place on a bus yet, so I'm having to rely on friends. It's a difficult situation.
"I did my application in May and since then I've had diddly-squat from them. I've been on the phone loads but can't get through. When I did get through, I waited for 50 minutes on hold and in the end I had to give up because of work.
"I just feel that the council have failed in their duty of care for children. Year sevens should not be being turned away in their first year of school."
We asked BCC why communication had been so slow in coming, and why so many children had been unable to get a pass this term.
They did not respond to our questions about the last minute notifications, but a spokesperson did provide these comments:
“In 2018-19 the County Council commissioned 167 routes to run home to school transport. In September 2019 we currently have 160 routes. It is important to say that when we commission school transport routes we always commission services to the levels needed to fulfil our statutory duty for travel for all pupils who are eligible for home to school transport only, not paid-for transport places.
“In September 2018, 57% of paid-for transport applicants were offered a place with 43% of applicants unable to have been offered a place. In September 2019, 28.5% of paid-for transport applicants have been offered a place with 71.5% of applicants unable to have been offered a place.”
The following forms part of a statement on BCC's website. The full statement can be read here: www.buckscc.gov.uk/news/joint-statement-on-home-to-school-transport
Joint statement from Buckinghamshire County Council’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Arif Hussain and Cabinet Member for Transportation, Mark Shaw:
“We apologise for the difficulties being experienced currently by families in obtaining their bus passes for home to school transport at the start of the school term. We recognise this has been a difficult time for everyone affected. The difficulties have been due to a number of contributing factors including technical issues printing bus passes and using the online payment system in time for the start of term.
“We know that some families applied for paid-for transport earlier in the year but will have been notified between 19 and 30 August that they have been unsuccessful with securing a place. We appreciate the challenges involved with getting children to and from schools; however we do make clear at the first stage of the school admissions process that transporting children is parents’ and carers’ responsibility and that we cannot guarantee a paid-for place on school buses for every child
“If you have not been successful in securing a paid-for place at this stage we will place you on a waiting list for future spare places and will aim to notify all families by 31 October 2019 if you have been offered a spare seat.”
We have also been told by parents that the 'sibling priority' rule has been abandoned, resulting in a near farcical scenario of some parents taking one child to school in their car while following a bus that is transporting another of their children.
In response parents are taking to social media and contacting the press to express their dismay. Some are arranging meetings to discuss next steps and at least one group have organised a protest involving putting 'School Transport' signs on their cars while driving in convoy to the school gates.