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Parents left ‘furious’ after receiving council letter

‘No consultation’ on school transport changes caused ‘unnecessary stress’

Fiona Tomas

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Fiona Tomas

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PARENTS of children with special educational needs have criticised a letter from West Berkshire Council informing them about changes to their children’s home-to-school transport – which they say were not consulted on. 

A number of parents of children at Trinity School, Newbury, were sent a letter in April telling them of a changed minibus service to their child’s transport to school.

The council claimed the letter, dated April 19, “outlined an option” for some children from the school to be collected from a central meeting point, rather than the current arrangement of being picked up from their homes. 

Despite issuing a confirmation form – whereby parents were required to state whether they agreed with the changes or not – the letter openly informs parents of an imminent change to transport arrangements for their children. 

It also sets out the steps parents must take in order to comply and instructs that they will ‘need’ to accompany their child to and from a bus pick-up point from Monday, June 4, onwards.

The council argued the initiative could bring benefits for some pupils, including shorter journey times, healthier travel choices and better integration with other pupils at a range of schools.

It said it might also assist parents who currently face difficulties with work commitments or taking siblings to other schools, as there could be greater opportunities for working collaboratively with other parents.

But several parents contacted the Newbury Weekly News after receiving the letter, feeling that the council had ignored statutory guidance for local authorities on home-to-school transport.

This advises that children with SEN, disability or mobility problems should be assessed on an individual basis to identify their particular transport requirements.

One parent, Sandra Smart, argued the changes would wreak havoc on her 13-year-old daughter’s health and wellbeing if she shared a bus with other children because of her sensitivity to noise and disruption, which causes her to suffer extreme levels of anxiety.

Mrs Smart said: “I tried to explain to my daughter about the changes and she ripped up the reply slip in anger.

“She had a huge meltdown.

“It caused a lot of unnecessary stress to us as a family.”

Mrs Smart said her daughter hates changes to her strict routine and the proposed pick-up time from the meeting point coincides with when she takes her medication every morning, making the scheme ‘impossible’ for them both.

Another parent of a Castle School pupil who uses the current home-to-school transport said that, while he did not object to the concept of the new scheme, it appeared to ignore guidance on policy changes as stated by the Department for Education. 

This states that consultations should last for at least 28 working days during term time or longer to take account of any school holidays that may occur during the period of consultation.

“I and other parents are furious,” said the parent, who wished to remain anonymous.

“It would have been proper if the letter had asked us about the changes, instead of telling us that these changes would happen if we did not respond.

“It was a complete assumption and the whole process just beggars belief.”

In its statement, the council says the letter, issued on behalf of the local authority’s transport team, was part of a consultation on home-to-school transport.

But the council’s press office confirmed a consultation about the changes in home-to-school transport for Castle School pupils was not published on the West Berkshire Council website. 

The Castle School parent, Mrs Smart and others who contacted the NWN maintain they were not, at any point, invited to submit their views via a consultation.

The council’s executive member for education and children and young people, Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft), said the measures reflected a positive change for some of the pupils as they would help them move towards independence, but said it was clear they would not be suitable for all of them.  

She added: “I want to reassure parents that this letter was sent out to them to give them an opportunity to comment on a change to the service their children receive, which is one of a number of initiatives that the council has been looking at within school transport for a number of years.

“I would like to apologise if the tone of the letter worried or confused them as this absolutely wasn’t our intention.”

The deadline for feedback on the new changes has been extended to Tuesday, May 8.

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