Published: 13:09, 10 August 2020
| Updated: 13:11, 10 August 2020
Student bubbles could "burst" on the first day that all children return to school unless adequate transport plans are put in place, a councillor has warned.
Thanet county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) has voiced concerns about pupils "rushing" onto school buses without proper supervision. He fears this will lead to students mixing with peers outside of their class or year-group "bubble".
Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Con) said it remains a "national priority" to get every youngster back to school next month as Kent County Council (KCC) says it awaits "detailed guidance" around school transport provision.
So far, the local education authority says that pupils aged over 11 will have to wear a face covering unless they have an exemption. No standing will be allowed on school buses and strict social distancing rules will be imposed.
But, Cllr Lewis, who is a school governor at Drapers Mills Primary Academy in Margate, said: "The problem I can see is that all the children rush to get on the same bus and the student bubble will burst."
The Margate councillor's comments came during a KCC scrutiny committee meeting where several councillors were told that emergency plans are being worked on to protect Kent schools from future coronavirus flare-ups.
KCC's public health director, Andrew Scott-Clark, said that schools remain a "real worry" for the county council and described them as a "vulnerable setting" for potential future outbreaks - alongside care homes and prisons.
"The problem I can see is that all the children rush to get on the same bus and the student bubble will burst..."
But, he said there have only been a small number of cases at Kent schools. In June, a Reception pupil tested positive for Covid at Dartford's Sutton-at-Hone Church of England Primary School in Church Road, which saw a group of young children and staff forced to self-isolate.
Another child was diagnosed with coronavirus at St Francis Catholic Primary School in Maidstone during the same month. One of the class "bubbles" and some staff were told to self-isolate. The rest of the school remained open in line with public health guidance.
Mr Scott-Clark said: "Schools have done a fantastic job in managing bubbles and clusters of children, which has enabled them to manage this effectively."
On Saturday, KCC's highways team said it was waiting for clear advice from Whitehall bosses over school transport arrangements as Kent parents and councillors continue to seek clarity ahead of September's planned reopening.
Stagecoach is one of the main bus operators working in the county and serves most secondary schools in East Kent, spanning from Ashford to Folkestone, but the service has been operating at one-third of its usual bus capacity.
Cllr Michael Payne (Con), KCC's cabinet member for highways, said: “Behind the scenes we have been working with bus operators to ensure that our services are provided in accordance with government guidance, ensuring there will be enough room whether you take a taxi, bus or coach to school.
“If we need to hire more vehicles to keep people safe, we will do so."
KCC's education cabinet member, Cllr Richard Long (Con) has said that face coverings will be recommended for younger children to wear - those aged under 11 - if they are "happy" to do so.
He also encouraged parents to purchase a Kent Travel saver card if eligible, saving students up to 50% on bus journey costs.