Kent County Council has announced new measures that will allow pupils to travel to and from school safely when they return to the classroom next month.
School transport guidance was provided by Government on 11 August, although KCC officers have been working since the lockdown began on preparing for a full return to school with appropriate transport arrangements.
KCC has formed a transport protocol for providers to make school transport is as safe as possible:
- All public bus services will observe social distancing guidelines and have seating plans in place
- A number of school-day-only services have been restricted to be used only by school children so more space is available
- Children are encouraged to travel by alternative means where possible
- KCC is working with operators to provide extra vehicles on busier services and will continue to do this so that everyone who needs to can travel
- The use of face coverings has been made a requirement for all passengers, where possible, and for all transport staff unless they are separated by a Perspex screen
- KCC will work with schools to cater for staggered start and end times where possible – arrangements will be individual to each school, so parents should contact their child’s school directly if they are unsure what adjustments are in place
- KCC will continue to monitor all services and any new government guidance so it can continue to make schools transport as safe as possible
There are also ways in which passengers can help:
- Plan your journey, and if travelling by bus, consider using less busy stops and use contactless payments or have the correct change where possible
- Wear a face covering, where possible
- Follow all instructions, using only dedicated seats and listen to the driver
- Make use of all available seats on local/school buses, as there is no standing allowed
- Wash and sanitise hands before and after travelling and make sure a face covering is always worn when travelling where possible
- Be conscious of those around you at the bus stop and when boarding, let others off the bus first before getting on one at a time.
- At the end of your journey, consider using alternative bus stops which may be less busy.
- When leaving the vehicle, wait until the bus has stopped before getting up to avoid queuing.
- Once outside be conscious of your surroundings, be careful if crossing the road and be alert for other traffic.
Around 15% of pupils in Kent make use of free school transport or one of KCC’s subsidised public transport schemes. Free school transport is offered to children attending their nearest school over a certain distance, and to some low-income families.
For KCC’s dedicated home-to-school transport, a transport protocol, based on Government guidance, has been created setting out the measures they need to follow to keep children safe:
- 1m social distancing is not a requirement on these services but should be maintained where possible
- It is recommended that all passengers wear a face covering wherever possible.
- Try to ensure that different schools are not mixed on this transport where possible
- Children to use the same seat on the vehicle each time they travel
As guidance changes, the protocol is updated and re-issued to operators.
KCC’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills Richard Long said: “School leaders, teachers and support staff have been working tirelessly, supported by KCC officers, to ensure schools are ready to safely welcome all pupils back to the classroom in September and it is only right we ensure they are able to travel to and from school in safety as well.
“Wherever possible and providing it can be done safely we would encourage pupils to walk or cycle to school, with a parent or carer if necessary, as this will free up much-needed space on public transport, while exercise can also be beneficial for both physical and mental health.
“Whichever method of transport a child or young person uses to get to school, we would like to remind all pupils in Kent to follow the relevant guidance, for your safety and the safety of those around you.
“For our SEND pupils, we have been working with Special schools directly to ensure that children with additional needs will be provided with a safe route to and from school.
“As Government guidance is understandably adapting as Covid-19 response develops, we will continue to update our website, and where necessary, contact parents directly to keep them informed.
“We appreciate that the ongoing uncertainty that Covid-19 is causing can lead to frustration, but we will continue to provide guidance as quickly as we are able to.”
Children in school years seven to 11 who are not eligible for free school transport can still apply for a Kent Travel Saver Card that can save up to 50% on the cost of travel, and it is also available for those 16 and over to get to school or college.
KCC has also committed to providing a pro-rata pass when government social distancing requirements change, and bus capacity can return to normal.
KCC Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport Michael Payne said: “Numbers for the Kent Travel Saver have dropped considerably this year – for the Kent Travel Saver we’ve had around 6,100 applications compared to around 24,000 normally; and for the 16+ Travel Saver we’ve had around 1,800 compared to 7,000 normally.
“With the uncertainty around going back to school, these numbers are not a surprise, particularly as we have urged parents to consider alternative options to get their children to school.
“Now that government has provided the guidance, we have been able to put our plans into action. We have created a dedicated ‘return to school’ area on our website detailing how the return to school will work, and we will also be contacting parents directly.
“If you are eligible for free school transport or registered for the Kent Travel Saver, Kent 16+ Travel Saver or Vacant Seat Payment Scheme, we will be in touch with guidance for your particular circumstances.”
Central Government has acknowledged that the new national requirements are likely to increase the number of pupils that travel to school in cars.
Mr Payne added: “This, unfortunately, is another unavoidable consequence of Covid-19 but we are creating additional cycle lanes, slowing speeds around schools where appropriate to do so, encouraging more to walk and cycle and advising parents on alternative ways to get their child to school.
“This is an area where we can all do our part to make sure we’re making use of the most environmentally friendly way of travelling and keep congestion to a minimum.
“During this crisis, buses have continued to operate, carrying many of our essential workers including NHS staff to work.”
Bus operators are carrying out extra deep cleaning as part of their daily routines such as disinfecting the buses with ‘hot fogging’. All surfaces are regularly wiped down and disinfected, including touch points around the driver. Windows will be kept open to help with ventilation and bus drivers will either be behind a screen, or wearing a face covering.
Buses will carry around two thirds of their normal capacity, run their normal route and at their normal times.
KCC is working with bus operators to provide additional capacity through the conversion of some services to school-only. Where KCC has identified that there may not be enough space, it is providing extra buses and will be monitoring the situation closely when schools return to react quickly to make sure that all children can travel safely.
For the latest information, visit www.kent.gov.uk/backtoschool
Find out what Southeastern’s plans are here.