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Bus at Wexham

School transport is a major concern for secondary school pupils, unless they are lucky. It's not just the cost of about £1000 per year but also the child's safety and the risk of being left alone with no means of getting home.

There are Facebook groups to help parents get together to hire coaches and minivans. These groups have contacts within Bucks Client Transport to chase travel vouchers and other queries.

It could be so much easier with a proper grip taken by the Council to ensure all children are safe. Nothing is more important than that.

Buckinghamshire Council process

Buckinghamshire Council strictly limits the availability of free school transport, and there is a major lack of information on paid-for transport.

It seems to have a complete lack of empathy with parents and children during the stressful transition to secondary school and at the start of each academic year. Uncertainty seems to dog the school transport applications process. It could be far more customer focused.

Expecting free transport

Iver and Burnham secondary schools were closed with the promise of free school transport, which is later withdrawn.

Children assessed as disabled or with special needs should get free transport. This is not always the case and some cases have been highlighted in press reports. There are also delays in starting and completing the SEN assessments.

Changes to Council school transport policies

In December 2018, the previous council decided that it would only handle the transport requirements for those legally entitled to free school transport. The reason given was that parents would not be prepared to pay for the management of 'paid-for' transport. This was despite some villages having minimal and indirect public bus services.

In March 2019, it introduced a contribution charge towards the cost of transport for special needs children aged 16 and over, on the grounds that these children needed to learn to be independent. These are children who cannot cope with normal experiences and loud noises, who might disturb other passengers and who might get bullied. So the cure is to force them onto public transport, on their own, for long journeys every day! Even some Conservative councillors later realised that this was a cruel decision that should be reviewed.

For September 2020, the previous agreement for free transport to Chalfonts Community College was discontinued. Khalsa is now the nearest school for Iver, the Farnhams and parts of Burnham. Parents who don't accept Khalsa must arrange their own transport'.

Entitlement

As the Council's website says, "Most children do not qualify for travel assistance and parents are responsible for making the travel arrangements and meeting the cost."

The council strictly enforces its free school transport policies.

  • Transport is not provided for children under 5 years or over 16, even though children are expected in school from reception and up to year 13.
  • Transport is not provided if the parent has chosen a school which is not the nearest Bucks school that will accept the child. In the Burnham area, that is 19 out of every 20 children.
  • Parents organise transport if the walking routes is less than 2 miles for under 8s and under 3 miles for over 8s. That walking route is supposed to be 'safe' but so many of our roads have no pavements and dangerous crossings.
  • The council is now offering mileage costs rather than provide mandated transport - but not all parents have a car.

Paid for transport arrangements

From Stoke Poges through to Taplow, the cost of transport for secondary pupils is about £1000 a year for each child (unless the child goes to Burnham Grammar).

For most parents, the problem is not just the cost of transport but arranging it. The council still allows some paid for places on coaches that it organises for free transport pupils, but it has cut the size of these vehicles, leaving more parents to organise their own solution.

Children are not guaranteed a bus place from one year to the next. Every year, the process changes, the contacts change, and the eligibility reduces. Parents are left unsure if their children can get to school until the last moment (or later)

Primary School

Most primary children attend local schools, although many parents decide to drive them there.

Accessibility coaches

Coach companies are struggling with the costs of providing accessible transport, arguing that few children require that accessibility.

Who provides transport

Some schools provide coaches. Trains are available for a few lucky children. Public buses run into Slough from most villages but not to Beaconsfield directly. The council even suggests taxis.

In September 2019, convoys of cars drove to Beaconsfield, until greater provision was organised.

The public bus along the A355 to Beaconsfield Service Area turns on to the M40 and travels to the next motorway junction. The children then walk to the A40 and catch another bus back to Beaconsfield centre. With after-school activities, some lone children decide to walk across the rugby fields in the dark, cross the busy A355, and catch the bus home from there.

Solutions

There are Facebook groups to allow parents to get together to hire coaches and minivan. These groups have contacts within Bucks Client Transport to chase travel vouchers and other queries.

It could be so much easier with a proper grip taken by the Council to ensure all children are safe. Nothing is more important than that.