Councils will receive £40 million in funding from the government to help get children to school in September amid warnings of huge problems with transporting pupils safely.
Announcing the funding today, the Department for Education said it would be used “to ease pressure on public transport as children return in September”.
Councils will be able to use the money to “hire dedicated coaches to get students to school and college”. The government said it hopes this extra capacity will allow “hundreds of thousands more students to use alternatives to public transport, while social distancing measures remain in place”.
Schools have sounded warnings about the huge problems they will face in getting pupils to and from school in September. Ministers have said they want to see all children back, but social distancing measures on public transport remain in place, meaning many buses used by pupils are operating at a fraction of their usual capacity.
Analysis by the Education Policy Institute, released last month, warned there was “no credible solution” to the problem of pupils from different bubbles mixing on school transport.
And Schools Week revealed in June how one Catholic school in Yorkshire was facing having to hike transport costs for parents to more than £20 a day in order to provide the extra capacity needed.
At the time, Ian Mack, managing director of The Green Bus company in Birmingham, warned that “every school, even if it’s relying on the standard bus network, has an issue with capacity from September”.
The government was mocked last month when new guidance on the reopening of schools told institutions to look to the 2012 Olympics for inspiration on how to get pupils to school from September.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said today that he was “asking every staff member and student to plan now how they will get to school or college”.
“If it is possible to walk or cycle, please do. While our public transport system has almost returned to full service, I know thousands of people will choose to get active and find alternative modes of transport, because with distancing measures still in place it is important that we all play our part to ensure everyone is able to get to school safely, and on time.
“For those that have no other option than public transport, this investment for local authorities will mean more students will be able to travel on dedicated home to school and college transport, creating even more capacity where it is needed most.”
Councils will be allocated funding based on the number of children and young people they have in their area, and how far they need to travel. The money can be spent on pupils travelling to education and training, and “anyone supervising or escorting students to education provision”.
Students in further education will also be covered by the investment, the DfE said.
Councils will be provided with new detailed guidance next week, which has been “developed with the sector and Public Health England”, and sets out “details they need to plan for transport arrangements in September”.