More than 1,000 Suffolk children waiting to hear about school bus arrangements
Fresh criticism has been levelled at school transport bosses after new data revealed parents of more than 1,000 Suffolk children were still waiting to hear about provision just weeks before term.
Changes introduced by Suffolk County Council means that from September only children whose nearest school is two miles away or more will receive free transport.
Parents can opt to ‘buy’ a spare seat on buses at a fee of about £750 per year once all applications have been completed, but parents have claimed they will not find out until later in August or early September if they are successful.
Now, a Freedom of Information request has revealed that of the 1,796 applications just 729 have been completed as of July 11 – meaning 1,000 parents are still in the dark.
Furious parents have voiced their fears.
Fiona Macauley, from the Thurston area, said: “This does not allow parents to plan for the next school year when, for example, the spare seats application will not be confirmed until August,” and added: “What the council is offering is not sufficient to address these concerns”.
Lavenham-based parent Emma Deacon added: “All pupils, eligible or not, had to opt in by 31st May, so Suffolk County Council know the exact number of pupils eligible.
“I have been told by school transport that we may not hear until September, so I am unable to make any plans for anything ahead of September as I do not know if I will need to drive or not.”
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott, who opposed the plans, described it as “shameful” and added: “It underlines the lack of empathy coming from those in power at Suffolk County Council.
“Some families could be left with just weeks, if not days, to make alternative arrangements if they are unsuccessful, with some parents having to consider giving up work so they can make sure their child gets to school safely.”
It is understood that staff numbers dealing with the applications had remained the same, despite the additional work the policy changes have made.
Councillor Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children services, education and skills said:“We currently have 645 applications outstanding for the new year 7 intake who have opted in for council funded school travel. It is worth noting that of the 20,000 applications submitted we have received in total, there were 1,046 late applications that arrived after the deadline of 31 May 2019. We have worked quickly to process these applications on top of those which were received on time.
“The allocation of spare seats is difficult to confirm before the academic summer break because an allowance needs to be made for post-16 entitled students and, despite making an application, their requirements cannot be confirmed until they receive their GCSE results. This happens every year.
“The summer holiday period is always the busiest time of year for the Passenger Transport team who are skilled in managing the applications they receive. As in other years additional temporary resources have been drafted in to assist during this particularly busy time.
“Suffolk County Council is doing all that it can to ensure all school and post-16 travel arrangements are in place for the start of the new academic year.”
More by this authorJason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter