January 29, 2018
Schools in Wales could face losing vital funding for specialist transport if a council ruling goes ahead. While the schools will get to keep their wheelchair accessible minibuses, they could lose £13,000 of funding for escorts who travel to and from the school with the children.
Local authorities must provide home-to-school transport for disabled students but there’s no legal requirement for them to offer individual escorts for each child. Escorts travel with the children offering support and ensuring safety standards are met. Without this safety net, parents feel their children could be at risk while they’re travelling in school minibuses.
“There are no definite plans to remove escorts from school minibuses and it’s an important service which provides valuable support.”
School Minibus Services
Bridgend Council is considering removing escorts who accompany fewer than eight children. A report to the council said the move would go out to public consultation, as drivers may feel unable to manage or guarantee children’s safety on their own.
Disability Wales fears that if the cuts are to school minibus services children will be put at risk and families will be left struggling. A spokeswoman said parents relied on the service and drivers would not be able to provide the right level of support, as some vulnerable children may hurt themselves, kick seats and distract those behind the wheel.
If the ruling goes ahead, then the only adult onboard school minibuses will be the driver. Some parents are also concerned that screening requirements for drivers are extremely lax. Some parents are taking these health and safety concerns so seriously that they’re making professional sacrifices such as altering their work schedules or working fewer hours so they can drive their children to and from school.
One mother, Sue Harris, reduced her work hours to drive her nine year old son to school after she learned the driver had previously been sent to prison.
She commented: “They’re on the bus or in a taxi for hours every day. There’s a lot of risk, the system is wide open for someone to misuse it.”
A Bridgend Council spokesman said the authority gave standard guidance to escorts but training was the responsibility of the firm contracted to take the children to school.
He said: “There are no definite plans to remove escorts from school minibuses and it’s an important service which provides valuable support. Any allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior by escorts are thoroughly investigated and acted on appropriately.
“Escorts are employed by our contracted transport providers and are all subject to Disclosure and Barring Service checks. We take action when any notifiable offences aren’t disclosed or if a disclosed offence warrants the removal of an escort from the service.