On the Buses

Yesterday’s parent coffee morning at school was well attended and we saw some new faces, who stayed the whole morning too. We covered lots of topics but there was one issue that was a problem for many of the group, that of School Transport. When your child attends a special school, the local authority provide transport to and from the school. We have been very lucky as for most of the time that Joshua has been at this school, he has traveled in a taxi with just him, the driver and an escort, so they have gone straight from our house to school, with him being collected at around 8.15 and getting home before 4 pm.

I realised yesterday how fortunate we have been, even though once in 6th form we have to make a £500 contribution towards the travel costs for the year. Since the new term began, other families have had terrible issues with school transport : One 6th former, despite his parents paying his contribution, has not been provided with any transport as the council seem to have forgotten about him, even though he has been using school transport for years. He gets distressed as he sees his regular bus pass by his house, en route to collect fellow-pupils, but it no longer stops for him. Instead his parents have to juggle jobs and three other sons going to mainstream schools and somehow get him to school themselves. That is bad enough, but the Transport department appear now to be ignoring Mum’s calls and emails so we are two weeks into term and their mistake has still not been corrected.

Two other Coffee Morning Mums have daughters on the same school bus, which is taking such a long route home, that although school finishes at 3.15, it has often been nearer 5 pm before the girls are getting home. Another mother had refused to put her young son onto the bus that had arrived for him at 7.30 just because the driver was passing by on his way to collect the escort so it suited them. So too many children are spending too long on the buses, so that they can fit more on and use fewer buses it seems. But that is unfair as they will be tired and potentially agitated by the time they get to school , so it could set them up badly for the rest of the day. One Mum has now taken her autistic son off transport and she receives petrol money to drop him off and collect him herself, and as a result, he is much more settled at school as a long, noisy bus ride was not how he needed to start his day when he only lived 5 minutes from school.

So it seemed to be a topic that is creating a lot of problems and  hopefully, by the next coffee morning in a month’s time, it will have settled down into a better routine. But it certainly made me appreciate that system that we have in place, Joshua is a very lucky young man to be chauffeured to and from school in relative luxury and on a direct route too.

From A to B

Joshua returns to school today after around six weeks holiday  and I have been warning him for days now that it was about to happen. Yesterday morning, as I left home for work, our conversation went like this :

” Joshua I am going to work now”

” Bye Bye” with a big grin

” You will be going back to school tomorrow..this is the last day of your holidays!”

” No way!!!!” with another giggle

I wonder if he knew how appropriate his words were, if he meant them or if they just fitted accidentally. I like to think that he meant every word.

Pupils of Special Schools are transported by the Local Authority to their school, as they are unlikely to be on their doorstep like a mainstream school would be. Joshua travels around 30 minutes to his special school and he is  fortunate enough to be the only pupil from our area and so he travels solo in a taxi, rather than a mini bus, which would involve several pick ups and so, an earlier start potentially. Now that he is in 6th form, we have to make a contribution towards transport costs of £540 for the year, which began last year, which is a significant contribution  and I am not really sure why it arises in 6th form only, now that education until 19 is compulsory, whereas it used to be voluntary.

So this is a service that he is entitled to and that we pay a substantial amount of money for, so you would hope that it was organised professionally. As of this Monday, I had heard nothing about who would be transporting our son to school. I chased it with an email, to ask what the arrangements for this academic year might be? I heard back, on the same day at least, to say that there was no change from last year and that the contract was due to begin today.

So I texted last year’s driver and escort to check that they had had a good summer and to confirm that I would see them this morning. The escort replied immediately to say that while she was being maintained, we had in fact got a new female driver starting. I was reassured that, despite the last minute information to absorb, at least Joshua had some consistency in his passenger assistant. Yesterday, the day before the service is due to start, she texted again to warn me that the driver had changed already and that it would now be a new man. Now Joshus is not someone who is upset by change, but plenty of his peers are, and this last minute update could be enough to set them off badly for their return to school and I do not think that the Local Authority properly ever take this into account, as they are so blase about changes.

So wish us luck with the return to school, there will be a lot of nerves around today, amongst both pupils, parents and staff I suspect and a period of adjustment will be necessary. I personally am not anxious about Joshua settling back into school routine and I doubt that he is concerned either : he has been on such good form over the summer, that I think he is ready to go back to school and give the staff some grief, he is ready for some attention from a range of teaching assistants and staff and I am confident that he will soon get into his stride with both a new driver and a new teacher. I wish everyone good luck though, heres to another year!

Getting to and from school

When your child attends a special school, the council also provide transport to the school as they tend to be further away than your local mainstream school. Joshua has always been fortunate not to go to school in a bus with lots of other children on his route, so that it takes forever picking up and dropping off, but for the last few years, he has gone to school in a taxi just with his escort. His seizures and our distance from school have ensured that he has enjoyed this luxury for a while now and he has been fortunate enough to have kept the same escort since he started at Special School. Until Joshua is sixth form age, this transportation is provided free of charge.

It is a good service, that I am grateful for, now that the council have stopped trying to take short cuts in Joshua’s provision, as we are now agreed on his needs. It allows me to be at work for 8.45 and on days when I am meeting him, I can stay at work until 3.30. But there are three main downsides of this system :

  1. Joshua does not have the opportunity to walk to school, as I always did, due to the distance involved. It is a 25 minute drive away, so even if Joshua were more mobile than he is, school would be to inaccessible to walk to. Walking to school is both sociable – I used to chatter away to my friends en route to school – and good exercise, whereas now so many children arrive by car, delivered by their parents
  2. We as parents miss out on the ‘school gates’ experience, when we can meet and talk to other carers when delivering and picking up our children. That is an opportunity to share information , to make friends and to become more of a part of the school community. It is isolating to wave our children off from home as our only real link then is with the escort and driver.
  3. When Joshua was at his local mainstream primary school, I used to take him there and collect him at the end of the day. So I was able to tell his teacher or teaching assistant, what kind of night he had had and how the morning had panned out so far. Then I used to love to hear all the stories of his exploits during the day, when I met him at 3.30pm, and I had the opportunity to ask questions too. I knew who the people were in Joshua’s class, his peers and the school staff, they were not simply anonymous names. But that is not the case at a Special School, staff do not know who we are and, unless we go into school a lot as I do, we do not know them either, which is an unsettling feeling as we then are sending our precious children into the unknown.

Joshua does enjoy his taxi ride to school, using it either to chill out by listening to the radio or more frequently, grabbing some extra sleep!