Local education authority tells Corby school at eleventh hour recommended social distancing on school buses won’t take place

Corby Business Academy pupils that are bussed to school will not be able to social distance between year group bubbles as recommended

Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 2:38 pm
A huge number of Corby Business Academy students rely on buses to get to school.

Students at a Corby secondary academy are being bussed in without the prescribed social distancing measures in place after the local education authority failed to provide extra coaches.

Corby Business Academy and its parents were told only hours before its re-opening by Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) that fifteen of its school buses would not be able to provide the one metre social distancing between year group bubbles that is nationally recommended.

The local authority has responsibility for school transport and was told back in July by Government to put in place plans and provide extra capacity to ensure children could travel to school safely.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However the authority has failed to do so in time for the Corby school re-opening it’s doors today. And the problem comes at a time when Covid-19 cases are rising rapidly in the town with director of public health Lucy Wightman pointing to young people socialising as a factor in the growing number of cases.

A large number of the school’s students are bussed to the school from Corby and surrounding villages because it is on the outskirts of the town and far from the majority of housing estates. If a student lives more than three miles away from their nearest suitable school the local education authority has to provide free transport.

Schools have been putting in place numerous safety measures to ensure children are kept safe, with mixing between different year group bubbles avoided.

A spokesman for the academy, which is led by Simon Underwood, said: “NCC informed Corby Business Academy yesterday afternoon that there would not be sufficient Local Authority bus transport available to ensure absolute social distancing between year group bubbles, but that other risk mitigations would all still be in place.

“We immediately made parents aware of the affected routes. Our parents and students have been excellent in cooperating with us throughout the lockdown and in the run up to re-opening. We have reminded everyone that face masks must be worn on school transport and that students should try to put as much social distance as possible between themselves and those in other year group bubbles as advised by NCC.

“The Local Authority’s letter to us advised that they will pay mileage expenses for those parents who were able, and would prefer to, transport children to the school themselves rather than use the buses provided.

“Whilst transport to school is NCC’s responsibility, we are working closely in partnership to achieve the best solutions possible within their operating constraints.

“We would like to reassure parents that we have well-planned stringent safety measures fully in place at the academy and all social distancing procedures will be adhered to in the building. Obviously we made parents aware of this situation as soon as we received the news and offered the mileage allowance as one possible solution. We will continue to work with NCC to explore further options as a matter of urgency, though ultimately they are the transport providers, not the school.”

The lack of the one metre social distancing between year groups has caused concern for some parents.

One parent, who did not want to be named, said: “It seems like the school has done its best.

“I have no way of getting my child to school as I do not drive. If I don’t send them in, I could be fined and yet NCC can’t provide safe transport.

“It’s totally against government guidance”

Cllr Jason Smithers, who is cabinet member with responsibility for school transport said the situation was ‘ not ideal’ but ‘he was confident ‘a robust solution will be found in the coming days.’

He said Corby Business Academy was the only school in the county that had not been provided with sufficient bus capacity to ensure social distancing guidelines were met.

He said: “This is not ideally how we would have liked things to have happened and we are doing everything we can to ensure that children get to school in the safest possible way.

“If children follow the guidance and wear masks on the bus then there should not be an issue. “We have put in place other options and we have introduced our 45p a mile scheme so that parents can claim mileage for taking their children to school.”

He said officers at the authority had been working hard to put in place new transport issues across the county and that the issue in Corby was in part due to operators not having the manpower to run extra buses.

Leader of the Labour opposition at Northamptonshire County Council Cllr Bob Scott said the situation was ‘madness.’

He said: “It is not good enough and is indicative of what has been happening in local and national government for some time now.

“This upsets the bubbles system and all the arrangements the school has put into place and puts them in a dangerous position.

“This is the sort of thing that could lead to a lockdown in Corby, which is of course what we don’t want.”

Corby council's leader Tom Beattie said: "This is extremely disappointing and worrying when at a time where the rate of infections in Corby is rising one of our schools is not receiving the same amount of provision as others. Parents rightly deserve an assurance that this is being addressed and I have asked for clarity on the matter from Northamptonshire County Council who are the providers of school transport, and other partner agencies on why there is an issue here.

"With cases on the increase in Corby we need everyone using any kind of transport be that buses, trains or private cars to maintain social distancing. However, where this is not possible we would stress the importance of wearing face masks.”

Government gave local authorities instruction and guidance in July about putting in place solutions and extra capacity to ensure students were transported to school safely.

On it’s website NCC says: “We have been continuously working in partnership with our schools to ensure safe transport is put in place for September.

“Year group bubbles and minimum distancing between bubbles of 1m to apply to all mass transport. This includes bus, coach and vehicles with capacity in excess of 16 passenger seats. This will mean that we will be able to utilise between 70-80% of the vehicle’s capacity.”

The current guidance is for secondary school pupils in Northampton to wear face masks in school communal areas. This is because the town is a government area of intervention due to its high covid rate.

However the county’s director of public health said she would encourage other schools to implement the face mask measure.