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Concern over school bus capacity in Derbyshire if pupils return next month

Derbyshire school buses are only able to transport a quarter of the number of children they usually would due to social-distancing measures, prompting issues for a June 1 restart.

In a letter to all school and academy heads in Derbyshire, the county council laid out transport restrictions as another issue facing education chiefs.

Iain Peel, Derbyshire County Council’s service director for schools and learning, says transport is now a “hugely complex area” with capacity “dramatically reduced”.

He writes that a 73-seater bus will now have a capacity of just 16 pupils while a 53-seater coach will only be able to cater for 10 students.

Mr Peel said that there is no extra capacity for school transport.

However, the county council, when approached for comment, said it was getting in touch with its 217 transport providers to determine available capacity.

Primary schools are due to reopen on June 1 at the earliest for reception, Year One and Year Six – which could total 100 pupils or more for many.

Class sizes are restricted to 15 pupils per room, leaving staff to spread children between more classrooms with a teacher each – using much of a school’s capacity and resources for just a couple of year groups.

Mr Peel wrote to school and academy heads: “We recognise that many schools are keen to secure transport and we are already working with transport providers to determine the capacity they have available.

“We already know that there is no additional capacity available and each transport provider serves multiple routes rather than an individual school.

“In the meantime, rather than contacting the council’s transport team, we will be in touch with you as soon as we can, to outline the capacity which transport providers have available for your school.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the county council what adaptations would need to be made to school transport to make them viable and what cost this could be.

It also asked how many additional buses would now be required – considering buses can now only hold a quarter of the usual number of students – and how much this could cost.

A council spokesperson said: “We recognise that following the Government’s recent announcement that some year groups could possibly return to school from next month at the earliest, many schools are keen to secure transport which is why we’ve been in touch with head teachers and governors to let them know our position.

“We’re now working with our transport providers to determine the capacity they have available to adhere to Government guidance and are consulting with them about the kind of measures we anticipate may be needed, for example PPE for some close-contact services or social distancing on larger buses.

“It’s too early at this stage to provide more detail or confirm exactly what any measures or associated costs may be, but we’ll be in touch with schools again as soon as we know more.”

Social distancing measures still have to be maintained in schools, however government guidance acknowledges that “unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain two metres apart from each other and staff”.

Government advice says to “reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport where possible” and to “cordon-off seats and eliminate face-to-face seating, where vehicle capacity allows, to help passengers spread out”.

It also says to consider: “Substituting smaller vehicles with larger ones, or running two vehicles rather than one, where possible, to reduce the number of passengers per vehicle and increase the amount of space between passengers.”

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