HEADTEACHERS at two Cheadle schools have described the switch from students using school buses to catching public buses as an "absolute nightmare" and "appalling".
Students from Cheadle Academy and Painsley Catholic College are now expected to catch public buses instead of using school coaches as part of Staffordshire County Council's transport policy.
The policy has been in place for a number of years, but it is only since the start of the new school term on Monday, April 28, that students in Cheadle have made the switch.
Headteachers have reported issues such as lateness to lessons and safety concerns, and students having to stand on buses.
Staffordshire County Council has responded by saying it has revised the timetable and is monitoring the situation.
Keith Hollins, executive principal at Cheadle Academy, said: "The first few days of this have been an absolute nightmare for our students. I accept that public spending needs to be controlled, but I'm concerned about students being late to school, missing the bus at the end of the day, and the bus being full when it arrives in Cheadle.
"In winter there will be increased possibility of public buses being unable to get to Cheadle, and the amount of time and distance that children will be forced to walk down dark roads in winter will increase.
"The fact is that this policy is really better implemented in an urban area, not in a rural area. There is also potential for discrimination against non-car owning families in deeply rural areas.
"I'm very worried about students sitting public exams, which are coming up soon, being late for those exams.
"There are also issues with students having to stand on the bus, which never happens on a school bus.
"I'm disappointed about the lack of consultation about this proposal before it was implemented."
Ben Adams, County Council Cabinet Member for Learning and Skills, said: "As a council we offer all pupils entitled to subsidised travel free transport by local bus or train where these are available.
"This not only supports the local transport network, particularly in more rural areas, but helps the environment and fosters better well-being and independence among students.
"Thousands of students in Staffordshire, including many from the Staffordshire Moorlands and other rural areas of the county, are already safely using local buses to get to and from school every day and more children in Cheadle now have the flexibility of using public transport too.
"We are aware there were delays to the service last week, resulting in a revised timetable from Tuesday, May 6, which will be monitored to ensure that the service is operating punctually and reliably.
"The bus operator, First, has also had a staff presence in Cheadle and on-vehicle, travelling on the route with pupils to assess all aspects of the service and journey, including bus and pick up and drop off points and passenger awareness.
"The service will continue to be closely monitored."
Due to the issues, Painsley Catholic College is now paying for its school bus service to continue. The college asked the county council if it would be prepared to subsidise children using the school bus who are entitled to free transport.
But the county council declined, stating that: "It is the council's policy to subsidise transport for those eligible on the public transport network, which is crucial in rural areas.
"The decision whether to opt for transport provided directly by the school or to make other travel arrangements is of course a matter for parents."
Painsley Principal Stephen Bell said: "So, despite compromising and commissioning our own bus service, the county council will not support those children on our bus who are legally entitled to free transport to travel on our bus.
"This is extremely disappointing, but we are not willing to say to the students that they cannot travel on the bus and are subsidising them ourselves.
"I am appalled that the county council is not prepared to compromise on this issue.
"They appear to be making a stance on an issue which has little, if any, rational thinking behind it. We will stand up for our children and their parents and will ensure that not a single child's safety is compromised."
Cheadle Town Council discussed the matter at a recent meeting. Town mayor councillor Ian Plant said: "We should make a stand on this and make our views known."
Councillor Ron Locker said: "I'm appalled by children using public transport when school transport has been available for years safely getting them to school. It will save £16,000 which is a pittance and ridiculous that they want to stoop so low for so little."