‘Parental choice has disappeared’ - Fears students will change schools due to bus places

Katie Potts, from Hosford, with her children Sam, 16, Joe, 13, and Zac, 9. Picture: Katie Potts

Katie Potts, from Hosford, with her children Sam, 16, Joe, 13, and Zac, 9. Picture: Katie Potts - Credit: Archant

A headteacher has said he fears students will drop out due to a lack of discretionary school bus places.

Reepham High School head teacher Tim Gibbs. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Reepham High School head teacher Tim Gibbs. Photo: KAREN BETHELL - Credit: Archant

Discretionary spaces are spare seats on school buses which can be bought for pupils who do not qualify for free transport.

But parents and carers of 420 children who had these seats last year were told capacity may be “limited” due to coronavirus restrictions.

And as students returned to school this week, many parents were still unable to buy seats

Tim Gibbs, headteacher of Reepham High School, said out of nearly 1,100 students at the school there are around 250 who live out of the catchment area and do not have funded transport.

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While the school puts on two bus services from the Taverham and Litcham areas, which costs £35,000 and serves around 100 pupils, parents who live elsewhere rely on discretionary places.

This week, however, many parents were still unable to buy seats.

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Mr Gibbs said: “Since the pupils returned I’ve had lots of parents contact me asking what on earth can they do. Many have been forced to drop the kids themselves but they’ve said they can’t do it longer term and would have to reconsider schools. This is a massive shame and the whole principle of parental choice has just disappeared.

“For the school, if we lost 40 or 50 students it would be financially difficult. It would be a ridiculous amount to lose. That’s when you start cutting your limbs off for medical testing.”

“And the school is already disadvantage because of the two services we run. That is the equivalent of a teacher, two learning support assistants or a full time counsellor for mental health support.”

Katie Potts, from Church Street in Horsford, travels all over Essex for her job as a pharmaceutical representative, but has been forced to take her three sons to two separate schools, Taverham High School and Drayton Junior School, after being unable to purchase discretionary seats.

The 45-year-old said: “I’ve always bought them every year but we’ve been told we can’t this year. It has left us completely stuck. The situation is awful and is getting worse.”

Ms Potts said due to different school times there is a 45 minute wait in between dropping her sons off.

“It is not fair on both of us,” she said, “We just had to sit there in the car. And I’ve got to do the same again when I pick them up when school has finished.”

“At the moment I haven’t been travelling for work due to coronavirus but I will be soon. I have no idea what I will do then. Walking isn’t an option as the boys would have to cross the NDR which is a huge danger. I would be hundreds of miles away wondering if my children were still alive.”

“All I want is to be able to pay for the tickets as I have always done and get my children to school safely. I’m not asking for the world.”

John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said the council has “worked hard” to keep children safe on transport and to ensure all children who have free transport have a place.

He added: “We understand the pressures that can be faced by families and we need to prioritise transport for those who are eligible. We wrote to parents who pay to send their child to a school outside of their catchment to let them know we will provide a seat wherever possible, but we expect that spare seats will be more limited than usual because of the restrictions imposed by the government, as a result of the virus.”

Mr Fisher said there had been “regular communication” with Mr Gibbs since last year about the discretionary travel scheme and that there are other schools in the county who also provide transport.

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