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Suffolk school transport providers must be flexible post-lockdown

School transport providers in Suffolk will have to provide flexibility once pupils start returning to the classroom, according to education chiefs.

Suffolk County Council confirmed it had honoured contract payments to bus firms during the lockdown to ensure they were kept in business.

The cost equates to around £132,000 per day, meaning a two-month lockdown could cost around £7.9 million, while a three-month lockdown was more than £11 million.

Suffolk County Council is based at Endeavour House (34631997)
Suffolk County Council is based at Endeavour House (34631997)

Now, a deal has been struck meaning bus firms must be flexible.

It is understood that if schools have to change their hours or stagger year groups between morning or afternoon, providers will still be required to offer transport.

Adrian Orr, assistant director for education and learning at Suffolk County Council, said: “We have done a lot of work with the transport providers and in effect underwrote their work for a period of three months on the expectation we needed them to stay in business post-lockdown, but in return we want some flexibility.”

The council confirmed that as it was continuing the contract as normal, there was no additional expense and it was funded out of the existing school transport budget.

A council spokeswoman added the flexibility was also around the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils who, in many cases, were having to be transported to different school premises.

The only cost to be recouped is the lost income from spare seats for this term.

It is not clear how social distancing for school buses will work, as it is anticipated they will need to operate reduced numbers of passengers.

As well as social distancing on buses, schools will also be required to make more space between pupils, with class sizes of around 15 pupils having been mooted – around half the size they are currently for many schools.

It is not yet clear what provisions are to be made for families who do not feel comfortable sending their children back yet.

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