Published: 06:00, 18 September 2019
| Updated: 08:52, 23 September 2019
Children with special needs are experiencing journey times of more than two hours after changes to school transport.
Parents in Medway were informed of the changes, which include combining some pick-ups on some routes, during the summer holidays but are now experiencing issues.
Parents of every child with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), which are given to some children who have special educational needs, can apply for free transport to school, although this is not guaranteed. The council also provides other options, such as a petrol allowance.
Parents have to re-apply every academic year.
However, letters sent during the holidays revealed that Medway Norse, one of the council’s service contractors, would be providing minibuses for school journeys from September.
Rebecca Grieve’s seven-year-old daughter Hannah, who is autistic, used to get a bus, provided by ASD Transport, from their home in Pagitt Street, Chatham, to the Marlborough Centre at Hoo St Werburgh Primary School.
Three other children would get the bus and she would be picked up at 8.15am for a 9am start.
Last week, Hannah was picked up at 7.45am, with a chaperone and around 10 other children who were picked up along the way.
She didn’t get dropped back until almost 4pm, after being let out of school at 2.50pm.
Rebecca said: “The earliest school starts at 8.15am, so they were picking the kids up to accommodate that school, but my daughter’s school doesn’t open until 8.50am.
“It’s too many kids, it’s too noisy, the journey is too long.
“Two of my friends said their children are refusing to go to school.
"The kids are crammed in and they very much need their own space.
“My daughter is used to having the back seat to herself because she doesn’t like other people near her.”
The Department for Education website states: "As a general guide, transport arrangements should not require a child to make several changes on public transport resulting in an unreasonably long journey time.
"Best practice suggests that the maximum each-way length of journey for a child of primary school age to be 45 minutes and for secondary school age 75 minutes, but these should be regarded as the maximum.
"For children with SEN and/or disabilities, journeys may be more complex and a shorter journey time, although desirable, may not always be possible."
Rebecca passed on her concerns to the council’s school’s admissions and transport department. It responded saying a contractual agreement with their providers, including Medway Norse, was to deliver a total journey time of 70 minutes.
Rebecca said: “They either need to get Norse the extra buses or re-assign it to ASD. Medway Norse can’t cope, they don’t have the capacity or the experience.”
Meet and greets with drivers were arranged prior to the beginning of term.
"The kids are crammed in and they very much need their own space..." - Rebecca Grieve
Although Rebecca was pleased that happened - her daughter requires continuity to be comfortable - she said it had also caused an issue.
She said: “They arranged for a meet and greet for my daughter for Tuesday, August 27.
“They were two hours late showing up and they couldn’t be sure it would be the same bus or driver.”
Jade Stevens’ seven-year-old son James has ADHD and autistic traits.
He goes to Elaine Primary School in Strood and has also been having issues getting the bus.
Last term, he was picked up at 8.30am for a 9am start in a taxi.
Jade, who lives in Rainham, was told James would now be picked up at 6.50am by bus.
“He can’t spend very long on a school bus. He won’t sit still for all that time..." - Jade Stevens
Last week, she took James to school herself most days because she was concerned about the journey length.
She said: “He can’t spend very long on a school bus. He won’t sit still for all that time.
“He struggles to go to sleep because of his medication and they want him to get up that early.
“I’m thinking of pulling him out of the school. It’s totally unacceptable.”
One day last week, he was not returned home until 5.20pm after leaving the school at 2.45pm.
Since The Messenger got in contact, Medway Council has asked Medway Norse to look into the route James takes to school.
The council also confirmed it had changed some of its suppliers for transport for children who have an EHCP.
Cllr Josie Iles (Con), portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “We are committed to ensuring that we meet the needs of all the children we provide transport for.
“We have asked our contractor to review their routes to ensure that children are getting to and from school in a timely manner and are not being picked up or dropped off any earlier or later than necessary.
“We are committed to ensuring all children in Medway receive the best support possible.”