Posted on Wednesday 15th December 2021
Bus routes are amended where possible to connect villages and suburbs with schools, to give pupils not entitled to free transport an option.
Bus routes will continue to be adapted where possible to help children not entitled to free transport get to school.
Staffordshire County Council underlined its policy to structure supported services or amend commercial routes where it can, to provide fee-paying options for pupils traveling to school.
Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Education (and SEND), made the commitment during a debate confirming that its suspended Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme (TVSS) would not be reinstated following changes to Government policy.
Coun Price said:
The Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme was a non-statutory service which the Council ran at a loss to help around 0.3 per cent of the 112,000 Staffordshire pupils who are not entitled to free Home to School transport.
However new Government guidance means the system has become expensive, unfair and a lottery across the county.”
Wherever possible we support existing bus services by putting children entitled to free Home to School transport on those routes – and that also provides an option for pupils not entitled to free transport.
We also work with operators to amend existing routes where it can be done so they link villages and suburbs with schools.”
In recent years the authority has already structured supported services, or worked with operators to amend commercial routes to provide non-entitled pupils fee-paying travel options, including to Walton High, Stafford; Kinver High; The Friary School, Lichfield; Leek High and Westwood College and Alleyne’s Academy, Stone; plus several others, including to the DeFerrers Academy in Burton.
Now the council will use feedback from a six-week engagement exercise to compare demand with existing routes and see if alterations can be made.
Each year, Staffordshire County Council transports around 8,000 children entitled to free Home to School transport, using more than a thousand routes to 150 schools.
Another 112,000 Staffordshire children not entitled to free transport make their own way to and from school each day. Before its suspension in June 2020 due to the Pandemic, around 300 children were using TVSS.
The decision to close the TVSS 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.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Pupils who use the Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme (TVSS) are not entitled to free Home to School Transport. It is the parents’ responsibility to have their child attend school.
- Updated Government guidance requires vehicles with more than 22 seats to be compliant for disabled access if passengers are charged separately. School transport, where some passengers are entitled to free transport and others are part of the TVSS, falls in this category.
- Operators do not have enough compliant vehicles to meet Government guidance. Staffordshire adjoins 13 other local authorities and they’re all facing the same issue – there’s not enough supply to meet demand and operators will charge more than at present for the compliant vehicles that are available.
- Feedback from transport operators so far shows that only a third of their fleets are compliant; full compliance will take between three to seven years and the cost to them is anticipated to be up to £10 million.
- If the TVSS operates in a situation where some vehicles are compliant, while others are not, one user on the TVSS would pay a minimum fee of several hundred pounds if travelling on a compliant vehicle, while another TVSS user would travel free if on a non-compliant vehicle.
- The TVSS was suspended in June 2020 to create more space on Home to School services for entitled pupils as part of the response to the Pandemic and the need for social distancing.
- In August the council announced it was minded to permanently close the scheme unless a fair and legal solution could be found.
- Following a six-week engagement exercise, no fair and legal solution was found.