Children giving up heavy musical instruments due to lack of school transport says Senedd member
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
Children have been bullied, called their parents in tears because they dread walking home, and have given up musical instruments which are too heavy to carry because of a lack of free school transport, a Senedd Member has said.
Parents whose children attend Cynffig Comprehensive School in Pyle have called on their local authority to act on the issue.
Currently, the Welsh Government’s Learner Travel Measure means that high school children who live less than three miles from their school are not entitled to free school transport – often leaving those who fall just short of the threshold with a 30 minute-plus walk to school.
Member of the Senedd for Bridgend, Sarah Murphy, has called on the Welsh Government to change the three-mile rule in the Learner Travel Measure.
She said: “I am extremely concerned that children as young as 11 and 12 are having to walk 45 minutes to school and back from Cornelly to Cynffig Comprehensive School in Pyle.
“The changes to the free school transport distance rule mean that children who would not normally be allowed to leave Cornelly village without adult supervision are making this journey in the dark, cold and rain, to then sit in a classroom all day in wet clothes.
“Having had two public meetings, I have been made aware of two incidents of Year 7 students being bullied whilst walking to school, as well as children calling their parents in tears because they are wet, cold and dreading the walk home.
“One parent told me that they were looking into home-schooling their child because of the impact to their mental health, and others have quit playing musical instruments as they are too heavy to carry such a long distance.
“Ultimately, I would like to see the Welsh Government carry out the planned review on the Learner Travel Measure as soon as possible and explore reverting to the two-mile distance rule for older learners.
“As well as potentially prioritising the youngest students for bus passes. In the meantime, I would like the local authority to confirm if there are any free spaces on the current buses, as well as undertaking an updated Risk Assessment of the Walked Route to School and Children’s Rights Impact Assessment as a priority.”
Numerous parents have expressed concern over the safety and welfare of children aged 10 – 12 who would have to make this journey.
Jeni Wren, whose daughter will be attending Cynffig Comprehensive School in September said: “It is ridiculous to expect a child to walk from here to Cynffig [Comprehensive School].”
Jeni, who lives in the Maudlam side of Cornelly, said her main concern about the journey was in relation to road safety and the effect of the walk on her daughter’s energy levels and productivity at school.
“It has got to be a 40-minute walk,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want to do that as an adult going to work, let alone a child who is expected to do a full day of learning at school.
“It’s wrong. It’s not acceptable. There is no way I am going to let her walk. If I have to buy her a private bus pass I will, but then my concern is the financial side.
“I am already having to decide between gas, electric, petrol and food.”
Helen Cherry, whose son and his friend were chased home by a group of older boys, said she would like school buses to be more accessible.
She said: “There are buses across the street from where I live and they are only half full.
“I don’t understand how some families can get the bus when others can’t.
“For the year 7 [students] it is too far to walk. It’s too early in the morning, it’s too cold and I don’t understand why they don’t put a stop to it.
“The bus stop is literally across the road [and] I can’t get my son on the bus. It’s a shame.”
Another parent, Lee Brown, said she doesn’t think the route between Cornelly and Cynffig Comprehensive is safe for young children to walk along on their own.
She said: “It’s a 25-30 minute walk and there is a lot of traffic.”
Lee’s son will also be starting at Cynffig Comprehensive School in September.
She added: “Our kids are going to be the first years going up and they are so little.
“Half of them don’t even look like they should be [starting] in the [school], they are so small.
“There are a lot of parents saying that kids have come home and had pop and everything tipped over them by other children, and that is why they should be on the bus, really.”
The ‘paying places’ scheme was suspended by BCBC during the Covid-19 pandemic as available seats were used to implement social distancing measures, making transport even more difficult to access.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, has also called for action.
She said: “Unfortunately these issues are not unique to Cornelly; we hear of similar issues from across Wales.
“I’m calling again on the Welsh Government to publish the findings of its review into school transport – promised over a year ago – and details of next steps so that we can put an end to this uncertainty and postcode lottery.”
The Welsh Government and BCBC have been approached for a comment.
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