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Spare seats on Suffolk school buses open again after being frozen during Covid-19

PUBLISHED: 19:00 21 October 2020

Applications for spare seats on Suffolk school buses will open on Friday, October 23.  Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Applications for spare seats on Suffolk school buses will open on Friday, October 23. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

RACHEL EDGE

Applications for spare seats on school buses in Suffolk open on Friday, after having to be frozen because of coronavirus.

Suffolk County Council's Conservative cabinet member for education Mary Evans said she recognised spare seats was an important option for families. Picture: GREGG BROWNSuffolk County Council's Conservative cabinet member for education Mary Evans said she recognised spare seats was an important option for families. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suffolk County Council sells spare seats on school buses for parents who want to send their child to a school that isn’t nearest and therefore not entitled to council-funded travel.

But over the summer the authority said it couldn’t sell those seats for the start of the school year in September because pupils eligible for funded school transport – those two miles or more away from their nearest school – had to take precedence.

It was also unclear initially whether any extra social distancing or Covid-secure measures were needed, and how many pupils who normally travelled on public transport had to be placed on a dedicated school bus.

MORE: Parents face uncertainty as school spare seats applications frozen

Now, the county council has announced spare seat applications will be taken again from Friday on a first-come, first-served basis.

Suffolk County Council opposition Labour group spokesman for education Jack Abbott said there were still issues with the school transport policy. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSuffolk County Council opposition Labour group spokesman for education Jack Abbott said there were still issues with the school transport policy. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Conservative cabinet member for education, Mary Evans said: “I am pleased that we are able to open the application process for spare seats ahead of the October half term.

“While spare seats are never guaranteed, I recognise that these are important transport options for some families.

“We are contacting parents who have been in touch with us requesting a spare seat, however I would urge every parent who would like a spare seat to get in touch with us as quickly as possible.”

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Last year around 225 pupils travelled to school on spare seats, but the council said that fewer spare seats would be available this year because some pupils eligible for funded transport that previously were on public bus routes had to be placed on dedicated school buses to be Covid-secure.

MORE: Arrangements made for 2,000 pupils on public bus routes

The council is hoping to get applications processed quickly and passes sent out to families by the end of half term, but needed parents wanting the passes to get their applications with accompanying photo and payment in speedily.

But Jack Abbott, education spokesman from the opposition Labour group, said there were still issues with the school transport policy.

He said: “Education has been severely disrupted this year and it was a major failure that, despite the Government providing additional money to expand capacity on the network, hundreds of pupils were left without a school bus seat from the start of the academic year.

“Children should’ve been helped back to school, not had things made even tougher for them and their families. Even now, hundreds of families will have to compete in a school bus seat lottery.

“Families have to pay hundreds of pounds a year extra for a spare seat thanks to this arbitrary policy change. Villages and siblings have been split up, sixth formers are being forced over the border to other county’s schools and a spare seat could be removed at any point.

“The Conservatives forced through this dreadful policy, presided over a chaotic implementation and stubbornly refuse to make any changes to make things easier for families. Until they swallow their pride, hundreds of families in Suffolk will continue to suffer.”

The policy change introduced last September meant only those travelling to their nearest school would qualify for funded transport if it was two miles or more away from their home, although the administration agreed to honour existing travel arrangements for those who had already begun at school.

But parent campaigners against the new policy called for changes after it emerged some families were having to send siblings to different schools, villages were split between different schools and spare seats could not be guaranteed for a whole year.


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