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Angry parents say sixth form students in Audlem have been left “stranded” and unable to get to school in Nantwich after public transport was pulled by Cheshire East Council.

It’s feared up to 30 students could be affected by Cheshire East’s decision not to provide school transport for Brine Leas year 12 and 13 students.

And to compound the problem, the authority also allowed D&G Buses to pull its public 73 and 61 services, which Brine Leas students were able to use previously with a purchased bus pass.

It means students are either not attending school or having to “car share” with other families, against Covid-19 guidelines.

One furious mum said they were only told of the change a day before schools went back.

And she believes Cheshire East is breaching its statutory duty to provide where possible assistance for post-16 pupils to get to school from outlying rural areas.

She said: “Cheshire East Council are claiming they have no obligation to provide transport.

“School buses are provided for years 7-11. We were originally told to apply for a bus pass on these and then we’re told these weren’t available to years 12 or 13 children.

“Then, the bus company D&G withdrew the public bus routes calling at Audlem at school times so the children have been left with no way to get to school.

“The way it has been handled has been very disappointing with poor communication and such delayed and conflicting responses – no one seeming to care.

“It’s not good enough – it’s an eight-mile journey, they cannot walk or cycle there safely.”

The Government’s “Post-16 transport and travel support to education and training – Statutory guidance for local authorities” paper, it states there is a legal requirement for councils to support children getting to school.

“As it stands, parents are having to car share children which is not ideal with Covid and makes a mockery of safety measures put in place by the school,” she added.

“This is such an unacceptable situation and incredibly stressful as a working parent who can’t get my child to and from his nearest educational setting… a requirement by law until he is 18.”

Another parent with a son in year 12 added: “I found out the afternoon prior to him starting that D & G bus company have taken these buses off their timetable at those peak times.

“I was pretty shocked at this. I then phoned the school to be told it wasn’t their problem and they have nothing to do with transport.

“I then phoned Cheshire East school transport dept, to be told there was nothing they could do and to apply for a spare seat on a school bus which I did.

“However, they aren’t even looking at those applications for at least a few weeks.

“I completely understand there are new practices and restrictions due to Covid, but also feel 6th formers from rural communities have been completely forgotten about.

“I just feel that I am left with no where else to turn. At the moment, parents are car sharing taking the teenagers up to school. This isn’t sustainable though.

“Parents have to work and the traffic outside school is pretty horrendous without us adding further to this. I am gobsmacked by Cheshire East’s lack of care or interest.”

Brine Leas headteacher David Cole said: “The school is aware of the changes to some of the school buses provided by the Local Authority as schools have reopened this term.

“The statutory guidance on school transport issued last month, has meant significant changes to students who previously used public transport to get to school.

“The school has already contacted the Local Authority to discuss these issues and we are keen that any issues are resolved at the earliest opportunity.

“The school does not have any statutory powers with regard to school transport and so we will continue to be in contact with the Local Authority to try and assist in the resolution of any problems.”

Chris Almond, bus network manager for D&G Buses, said withdrawing its 73 and 61 services was “forced on us” by social distancing regulations set by the government – and that Cheshire East Council approved the change.

He added: “Previously, we allowed standing passengers on our buses but we are no longer able to and all of the seats are allocated to students entitled to free school transport.

“We also had to divert the 73 service to provide connections from other villages and as such we are unable to operate it to Brine Leas school – even if we did there would not be enough space under the current guidelines to carry all of the passengers that want to travel.

“In the case of both the 61 and 73 the whole plan was agreed with Cheshire East Council prior to implementation, as they fund all of our services in the Audlem area therefore they need to approve any decisions to change them.”

We contacted both Cheshire East Council and Audlem Councillor Rachel Bailey yesterday. We are still awaiting a reply from both.

However, on its “school transport” section on Cheshire East website, it says: “We don’t have to provide free travel support when a young person starts post-16 education.

“Any travel support we do provide is discretionary and not normally provided for mainstream pupils.”

But in the Government’s “Post 16 transport” guide, it states: “The overall intention of the sixth form age transport duty is to ensure that learners of sixth form age are able to access the education and training of their choice; and if support for access is requested, this will be assessed and provided where necessary.”

2 Comments

  1. Jonathan Taylor says:

    This isn’t just about post-16 children. My 11 year old, starting at Brine Leas this year, wasn’t picked up yesterday or today, despite assurances from the council. We had no notification of the cancelled service, which ran OK Thur/Fri last week, it simply failed to turn up.

    It’s taken over 10 calls to the council over the last two days (who frequently take 30 mins on hold before speaking to anyone) and bus companies, and I’m still not sure if any bus will turn up tomorrow.

    There is actually substantially more clear info in the above article than Cheshire East have provided – their advise changes from one phone call to the next, and so far their assurances have proven unfounded.

    It’s a complete shit-shower of incompetence.

  2. Paul Sage says:

    The DG no 61 school bus from Brine Leas also abandoned my daughter and several other Audlem children in Buerton last night. He then drove back through Audlem to his depot. What on earth is the world coming to?
    Disgusted!

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