Published: 05:00, 14 June 2022
| Updated: 15:37, 14 June 2022
A school’s bus services have been cancelled after bullying led to a child’s hair nearly being set on fire and staff receiving abuse from parents.
Hams Travel runs the 294 and 295 which take children from Peasmarsh, Hawkhurst and Sandhurst to Homewood School in Tenterden.
However, the company has now decided to pull the services after some pupils became so unruly police had to travel on board.
The firm also says running the services is no longer financially viable.
A Hams Travel spokesman added: “On the 295 we’ve had to have community officers and police officers on there.
“We’ve had kids trying to set fire to other kids' hair and all sorts going on. The school is aware and that’s why we’ve had community police on.
“Certain children have been excluded from the buses and we just couldn’t tolerate any more.
“Our office staff were getting abuse from parents and it just became too much for us. I’ve been in the industry for 36 years and I’ve never known it like that.
“The 294 is also unviable now due to increases in wages and fuel. We’ve given around a 20% increase in wages just to keep drivers here.
“It’s becoming a bidding war with a shortage of drivers everywhere.”
One anonymous source verified the report of a child being attacked with an aerosol can that resulted in pupils being excluded from the bus.
“Whenever there is an issue on any of the buses, the school steps in immediately to investigate and to follow up accordingly..."
A spokesman for the school said: “We are disappointed that Hams Travel has decided to withdraw the service and hope that an alternative provider can be identified.
“We thought we had good relations with Hams and we have worked with them closely and supported them.
“The reason for removing the service were detailed in the briefing paper produced by KCC.
“However, it now appears that, because the company is receiving a negative response from the community, it is using an incident from the recent past as an excuse for removing the bus service.
“Whenever there is an issue on any of the buses, the school steps in immediately to investigate and to follow up accordingly.
"Various strategies will be used, sanctions given where appropriate and monitoring will take place afterwards. Involvement by the police is rarely required."
In an email sent to parents in May the school announced the service would be cancelled.
In the email, Homewood said the buses would terminate from June 24, a full month before the end of the school year, potentially leaving parents out of pocket having paid a full year’s worth of travel.
However, Kent County Council and Hams have since said the service will continue running until the end of the academic year.
KCC also cannot afford to replace the service after a £2.2 million cut to its budget.
The decision has left parents in a tough position with some now unable to get their children to Homewood next year.
One parent affected is Tunbridge Wells borough councillor Ellen Neville (Tunbridge Wells Alliance).
She said: “As a Homewood parent myself, my Year 9 daughter cried about this. She has yet to complete a full year at secondary school due to the pandemic lockdowns. This has affected her greatly."
Another parent, Jai-Samantha Martin, whose son is in Year 7 at Homewood, catches the 295 bus from Hawkhurst.
She also has another child at primary school and another on the way.
“At the same time, costs relating to fuel and wages are also increasing which is making a number of these services unsustainable..."
Mrs Martin said: “The logistics of getting him to school, even without a baby on the way, is still a nightmare.
“The consensus I’m getting from most parents is there are half who are prepared to arrange car shares around work.
“The other half are under the impression that if we don’t send them they (the school) will have to do something.
“I’m torn because it’s going to be super hard for us. My husband can’t drive. I wouldn’t be able to get both my children to different schools on time."
The alternative journey for her son would involve taking three different buses: "He would be at school about 40 minutes late every day and his journey would involve multiple buses," she said.
“Forty minutes a day is the first period and will be a considerable amount of time to miss.
“There’s not a public service that runs from Hawkhurst to Tenterden. It would involve a bus to the next village and then a swap, and I’m not sure what time he’d have to start but it would be early."
On reports of bullying, Mrs Martin added: “We’ve never had anything from the bus service (Hams) or from the school about anything with bullying.
“There’s been no insinuation from Hams that it’s become an issue because surely then we could’ve done something to prevent it getting to this.”
A KCC spokesman said: “We acknowledge these amendments are part of a series of changes having to be made by operators in response to some really challenging conditions.
“The pandemic has had a profound impact on the levels of people travelling on public transport and bus use in Kent is estimated currently at only 70% of pre-pandemic levels.
“At the same time, costs relating to fuel and wages are also increasing which is making a number of these services unsustainable.
“The council understands why these decisions must be made but is concerned about the impacts on users particularly those without alternative transport, and school transport.
“Regrettably, Kent County Council is not in a position to provide financial support for these services.
“Children entitled to free travel to school will be provided with alternative transport.”