Suffolk pupils told to wear masks on buses to and from senior schools
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE
Many Suffolk pupils will be advised to wear face masks on their way to or from school when the new term starts next week – if they travel by bus to a senior school.
Suffolk County Council has prepared its plans for 12,000 pupils to get to their schools safely – about 12% of the council’s total school population.
Earlier this month the Department for Education published official guidance on the measures that need to be in place to ensure that school transport is Covid-19 safe. Suffolk has been working closely with bus operators and schools to put these into place.
Most eligible pupils travel to school on dedicated, closed routes. This means that the vehicle only carries school children and on these routes social distancing will not apply.
There will be other measures in place to ensure pupils’ safety: children need to make sure they wash their hands before and after travelling, no eating and drinking will be allowed on these vehicles. Face coverings are also recommended for children aged 11 and over.
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Some children travel to school on shared routes where most passengers are pupils going to school or college but there are also a few members of the public.
The council has worked closely with operators to ensure that there is enough space on these shared transport routes.
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Pupils should observe social distancing guidelines with members of the public and sit in the seats marked, they can sit next to members of their family or school. On these routes face coverings will be mandatory unless a child is exempt from wearing one, in line with guidance.
For pupils who travel to school by public transport where routes are used mainly by the general public, social distancing will apply and face coverings will be mandatory unless exempt from wearing one.
For pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) most of their routes are dedicated so this means there is little change to their transport. Where changes are being made we are getting in touch with the families to explain the arrangements for the new term.
A child must not travel on any of these routes if anyone in their household has symptoms of Covid-19 which are a new persistent cough, high temperature or change in their sense of taste or smell. If the child or anyone in the household has these symptoms, then public health advice should be followed as usual.
There may be some spare seats on buses but parents will not be able to apply for them until October half term because council officials will need to monitor how services are operating.
Mary Evans, cabinet member for education, said: “The Passenger Transport Team has worked closely with schools and transport operators to ensure that suitable travel arrangements and safety measures are in place for all eligible pupils for the start of the school term.
“I appreciate that going back to school will be an anxious time for many families. I would like to reassure them that our priority is to ensure the safety of children on their journeys to and from school.
“I am very disappointed that we are not able to open up applications for spare seats until October Half Term. While spare seats are never guaranteed, I recognise that these are important transport options for some families.
“If a parent has no means whatsoever of getting their child to school, the county council may be able to help by using discretionary power to offer transport arrangements. This would only be done where it is clear that this is absolutely essential to enable a child to attend school.”
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “Many families are being penalised again by Suffolk County Council through no fault of their own. Last year, they had to pay hundreds of pounds a year extra for a spare seat due to an arbitrary policy change. Now, at the start of this school year, they are having that seat withdrawn completely.
“I’m afraid that the Conservative Councillor responsible for Education saying that she is ‘disappointed’ rings pretty hollow. She helped push through this dreadful policy, stubbornly refuses to make any changes to make things easier for families, and hasn’t increased the capacity on the network despite the Council being promised additional Government money to do so. She also continued the brutal cuts to bus subsidies when she was responsible for transport in the county.
“It is a disgrace that hundreds of children in Suffolk will not be able to access school transport for weeks, if not months. We need to be helping children back to school, not making things even tougher for them and their families.”