Posted on Tuesday 31st August 2021
The Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme has been branded 'unfair and a mess' by Jonathan Price, pictured, following enforced changes to how it must work.
A suspended scheme, which lets pupils not entitled to free school transport to take up spare seats on school buses, may not return.
Staffordshire County Council has said it will not reinstate the suspended Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme, halted during the Pandemic, unless it is persuaded otherwise during the next six weeks.
The non-statutory scheme, which is run at the authority’s discretion, has been burdened by new Government guidance and a lack of suitable vehicles, which creates potential inequalities across the county.
Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Education (and SEND), said:
This scheme was launched many years ago by the council over and above legal requirements to help people where we could and to offset some of the costs of moving thousands of pupils by school bus.
Recent changes to Government guidance mean that this scheme costs us money to administer and will mean that one child has a free seat, while another will pay hundreds of pounds for theirs and a third child will have no opportunity at all.
It’s unfair, it’s costing Staffordshire taxpayers money and it’s a mess not of our making, so we propose to stop the scheme for good, as have some other counties, unless someone presents a solution.”
Each year, Staffordshire County Council transports around 8,000 children entitled to free Home to School transport, using 900 routes to 150 schools.
Another 112,000 Staffordshire children not entitled to free transport make their own way to and from school each day, while prior to the Pandemic, approximately 0.25 per cent of the school population – 300 children – were able to use the Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme. Currently there are approximately 100 expressions of interest.
Parents using the scheme are always told they cannot rely upon it, as it depends entirely on demand amongst children entitled to free travel.
Having reviewed the scheme in recent weeks, a six-week public engagement begins today [Aug 31]and we will invite all interested parties to share their views and ideas through a survey, with a final decision to be taken as soon after as possible to provide clarity to those interested.
This does not affect those who are entitled to free Home to School Transport and it does not affect those aged 16 and over who are eligible for transport to school or college due to their learning difficulty or disability.
Jonathan Price added:
We’re being entirely open by telling people what we think and the reasons why, but we will listen and adapt if there is something reasonable and workable that we can do.”
Interested parents have already been told to make their own plans for September and we will continue to keep them informed.”