We need to make sure that all our pupils can get the bus to school

Some children rely on public transport to get them to school in the morning
Some children rely on public transport to get them to school in the morning

Young Sheffield school children have been left stranded on the city’s streets this term because the buses taking them to lessons have been full.

Children as young as 11-years-old have been going out for the school bus at 7.30am in some parts of the city – only to see it whiz by because the service has already reached capacity.

If there aren’t enough seats on these buses, we have to increase capacity by putting extra services on

Apologetic bus drivers have shrugged their shoulders and mouthed “sorry” – it’s not their fault, they cannot carry more than the legal limit.

But the result has been the same – young children abandoned at the bus stop wondering how to reach school.

What happens next depends on the circumstances of each child involved. If they are fortunate, they could return home and get a lift to school from their parents.

In some cases, parents have already gone to work, safe in the knowledge – or so they thought – that their child will get on a bus and make it in to school. Some children may not have access to a car to get a lift to school and reaching classes by public transport might not be a straight forward affair.

What we’ve seen in the early weeks of term are some children turning up late – if at all – because the city’s school transport system has experienced some serious teething problems.

Increased traffic congestion around some schools has been reported as parents use their cars to fill the gaps in the unreliable bus system.

It seems the transition from the green vehicles of Brightbus has been far from smooth. The announcement about Brightbus’s departure was made far too late in the day and did not allow schools, the council, bus operators or South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive much time to sort out the resulting conundrum.

That shock news left stakeholders with a massive headache – how to cater for 12,000 pupil journeys to and from 37 schools across the county. The Brightbus boots have not been easy ones to fill.

Parents, quite understandably, have been taking to social media to vent their anger at the new system’s short-comings. When they are called away from work because the school bus home has not got the capacity to get every child on board, the implications go well beyond family life and start to affect local businesses.

It seems that somewhere along the line in this difficult transition, the number of school children making the different journeys has been miscommunicated. On some routes, demand is far outstripping supply.

And so we see young children left on the streets – a major safeguarding issue. If kids leave their homes in the morning with their parents thinking they are getting the school bus, we can’t have a situation where they are fending for themselves a few minutes later.

Safety, of course, is paramount. Quite rightly, bus drivers have been instructed not to overload their vehicles. A quick fix to this problem should not compromise the health of young people.

But if there aren’t enough seats on these buses, the answer is simple – we have to increase capacity by putting extra services on. Our priority as a city has got to be getting kids into school.

If we fall down at this hurdle and don’t provide suitable transport for each and every child needing it, we can’t expect the advantages of a good education to fall into place. Teachers show graphs highlighting the fall in achievement when pupils are not in school.

If punctuality at school is threatened by something outside the control of the children or parents, that’s a failing of the city’s infrastructure and it needs addressing as soon as possible.

Hopefully, the teething problems experienced by families will turn out to be just that.

I’ve been encouraged by the attitude of people I have spoken to at the council and schools; those involved have a genuine desire to sort this situation out and make sure children can get to school safely and on time.

I’m sure improvements to the service will be made in the coming days and weeks.