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Safety fears over school bus changes in Cheadle

By Cheadle Post and Times  |  Posted: April 09, 2014

By Abbey Buxton

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PLANS for schoolchildren to use public transport instead of school buses have sparked fears for their safety.

Staffordshire County Council is looking to move away from providing school buses and get more school children to use public transport.

The plans only affect secondary school children, not primary school children, and have already been implemented elsewhere in the county.

But, as the scheme is now being rolled out in Cheadle, school leaders are concerned about the safety and timing implications the changes will have.

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Keith Hollins, executive principal, for Cheadle Academy, said: "I understand completely the county council point of view that they are providing two subsidies for one bus route.

"My issue is the safety of students; I'm not saying public buses aren't safe, but school buses by definition, and the fact there is only school children on them, are safer.

"Another serious issue is the timing of the buses, because with students having to walk to and from the bottom of Station Road to school, it makes it difficult for them to get to and from school on time, whereas school buses pull up right outside school.

"However, I'm grateful to the county council for altering the bus service schedules to try and tackle this issue; they have also provided us with maps, timetables and diagrams.

"We have no control over this, it is not our decision, but we will not be punishing students who are late in the mornings because of the service buses.

"Another concern is children missing buses after school, especially in dark, wintry weather, and we will ensure provisions are made for them to come back into school.

"We will be monitoring the situation with those affected to make sure, as much as we can, that children aren't being disadvantaged in any way by having to catch service buses."

The matter has been brought to the attention of Cheadle Town Council, which was notified about the issue in an email by Ian Walford, assistant head at Sandford Hill Primary School.

Mr Walford said: "This has exceptionally serious child safety implications as well as having a devastating impact upon children's attainment and progress.

"Local schools are vehemently opposed to it, as are local parents, who have grave reservations about this and I am aware that a large number have composed letters of opposition.

"Children will be dropped off on Tean Road then have to walk along the main road, unsupervised into school. Who is then responsible for their safety?

"Currently children are dropped off in the school grounds and are therefore brought safely into school."

The matter was discussed during a Cheadle Town Council Committees meeting on Monday, April 7.

Development services committee chairman councillor Ivor Lucas said: "It is terrifying that children are being asked to take public transport.

"It is a disgusting situation and a very sad time and this is not on; save money by all means, but not at the sake of children's safety.

"Currently they are taken straight from home to school and vice versa and it is safe.

"If the weather is inclement and the bus service is cancelled, what happens to the children who are stuck at school?."

Deputy town mayor councillor Ron Locker said: "Cuts have to be made, but children should be the last area cut.

"That junction is a terror by Station Road and we're talking about children's lives, so why they're doing this I'll never know; why mend something that's not broken.

"There will come a time when the service buses are full and there is no room for the school children.

"We should ask the county council to take another look, this is stupid, irresponsible and I would expect more from them than this."

Councillor Ian Whitehouse said: "I can't believe what the county council want to do to save a pound; they should come to Cheadle and see what is actually happening.

"I've never heard such a daft thing, it's absolutely bonkers."

Councillor Margaret Locker said she had received complaints about public bus services being full and is concerned there will be no room for school children.

She added: "They are messing with children's lives, it beggars belief.

"This is serious and we've got to grasp the nettle and put some force to make this work better than it is.

"We need to work with the schools and parents; this is the most horrendous thing I've heard in this chamber for some considerable time."

Town mayor councillor Ian Plant added: "The pavement on the bottom of Station Road is not big enough and people have to walk in the road to get past when the children wait for the bus.

"There is no bus shelters so in bad weather they're going to get wet through and freezing cold waiting for a bus, whereas now they get picked up from outside school and dropped off right by their homes."

Councillor Gary Bentley suggested that the county council look at reorganising the whole of the town's bus service.

Councillor Julie Bull said: "I don't see a way around it other than leaving it how it is."

Councillor Alan Banks said that the problem could be resolved if the town council, schools and county council worked together.

He added: "It's not insurmountable and it could be sorted out, but it needs goodwill on all sides."

Councillor Peter Elkin suggested holding a public meeting for parents to attend and put forward their views.

He said: "It's an awful thing we're talking about, but no one has mentioned parents; as far as I'm concerned those school bus contracts should be reinstated."

Cheadle county councillor Mark Deaville said: "The main concern and consideration of Staffordshire County Council is the safe transportation of children to school.

"The very best way to sort this is to sit down and discuss the matter in a sensible and considered manner.

"I shall pursue this matter accordingly, and my overwhelming consideration will be the safety and convenience of our school children."

Ben Adams, Staffordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Learning and Skills, said: "It is the council's policy for all pupils entitled to subsidised travel to do so on public transport where this is available or where changes to the public transport network permit this.

"This not only supports public transport but benefits the environment and helps to foster both better health, wellbeing and independence among students.

"Thousands of students in Staffordshire, including those from Cheadle and the rest of the Moorlands, already safely using local buses to get to and from school every day. This has given many pupils greater flexibility to take part in after school activities and weekend travel through the My Staffordshire Card, and also gives more students living along the route the opportunity to take a bus to school.

"A further 35 students who currently attend the academy will also now be able to get to and from school by public transport. Their parents were contacted individually last month.

"There is a pelican crossing locally and, although a safety report shows the stop fall into the "lowest" risk category, we have offered further road safety training to students."

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