School transport rules forcing children to walk for hours to school every day, say parents
Lewis Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
Welsh school children are being forced to walk miles to school each day – in some cases for up to two hours a day – because of a council’s rules on free school transport, parents have said.
A number of parents across Bridgend have continued to voice frustrations this month, after they say the local council’s threshhold for free school transport has left their children walking miles to school each day.
According to Bridgend Council’s Home to School or College Transport Policy, “The Welsh Government has defined the statutory ‘walking distance’ as two miles for primary aged learners and three miles for learners of compulsory school age receiving secondary education”.
However, some parents believe these distances are too far for children to manage in a school day, with many having to carry heavy bags during the winter months on potentially unsafe roads.
Others have noted what they describe as inconsistencies with the policy with some children already in schools allowed to keep free transport along with those who have older siblings in attendance.
Bethan Davies, 45, lives in the Caerau area and says with her home around two miles away from her son’s school in Maesteg, and no transport available, she has had a number of issues with getting him in each day.
She said: “We live in the Caerau area with my son attending Maesteg Comprehensive, but with no transport available to him it’s either he walks, or we have to drive him.
“It’s a long distance to walk both ways with heavy school bags, particulalry in bad weather, and we inevitably end up driving him each day. It’s inconvenient for many parents here and, in my case, I’ve even had to get a new job to fit in around getting him to school, and I know a lot of other parents are finding it difficult as well.
“We’re a little bit stuck because there aren’t that many taxis in the area, and when we asked if we could pay to have him on the school bus, we were simply told no.
“This leads to lots of people driving to and from the school and the result is chaos on the roads with queues sometimes taking up to an hour for me to get there and back, from a distance of only two miles.
“As parents we are looking at ways to car share and get the kids in that way, but with people having busy schedules this can also be difficult to organise at times. Hopefully they can have a look at it and find a better solution that suits everyone because we do need it here in these areas.”
‘Six miles a day’
Lisa Marie lives near Maesteg and says although her address is inside of the cut-off zone for free transport, with the way the walking route is set out, it means her son would have to walk over three miles to get to and from Llangynwyd Comprehensive each day.
She said: “The council have set a three-mile radius from the school but my son has to back up on himself and walk the long way round from Maesteg Park to the school.
“Each way he will walk just over three miles so that’s just over six miles a day. My concern is road safety, crossing these roads and the amount of traffic now around the schools with less public transport available.
“I’m so surprised there’s been no accidents already. The buses still do these routes and if a child has a sibling at the school they are entitled to transport, that’s just alienating other children who don’t.”
Lucy Berry lives in Bridgend where her child attends the primary school, Ysgol Bro Ogwr. She says she has also suffered with similar concerns and frustrations at the situation.
She said: “My daughter attends Ysgol Bro Ogwr, but as we live 1.9 miles away we are not entitled to any free transport. At the moment we have to drive that distance because walking with my five-year-old plus another younger toddler just takes too long, and is not really feasible every day.
“It’s difficult because the roads are so busy with drop-offs in the morning, even driving can be very time consuming, with huge queues to the school and an amount of cars that can be ridiculous.
“The free bus actually picks up and drops off at the end of my street, so on many mornings I’ll be driving to the school behind a half empty bus which is very frustrating.
“Like others I have offered to pay for that bus service but have been denied, and now I’m just hoping something can change that will help more families like mine across the borough.”
During questions to the minister for climate change in the Senedd this month, Plaid Cymru economy spokesperson Luke Fletcher also raised this issue, and criticised the mileage thresholds used for the provision of free school transport in Wales, scrutinising The Learner Travel (Wales) Measure Review 2021, which was published on 31 March 2022.
The review also noted inconsistencies across local authority thresholds, with some offering reduced thresholds to accommodate more students on free school transport.
‘Two-hour round trip’
Mr Fletcher said: “It cannot be that in 2022 there are still these fundamental barriers, barriers well within the Welsh Government’s and indeed the local authority’s powers to remove, impeding upon the life prospects of some of the most disadvantaged communities in Wales.
“As we head into the winter months, children in Caerau will be forced to walk 45 minutes to an hour to school, so a two-hour round trip, in all weathers. They will be forced to walk along routes which are not safe, and many children with asthma will be forced to walk along roads which are heavily congested.
“Local authorities have discretionary powers here and in adverse circumstances such as these could reduce the mileage threshold to include deprived areas like Caerau.”
A Bridgend council spokesperson said: “Bridgend County Borough Council has one of the most generous learner travel policies in Wales. While there have been no boundary changes, a revised Home-to-School Transport Policy was introduced in September, 2016, which meets all of Welsh Government’s legislative requirements.
“In situations where someone does not meet the eligibility criteria for free school transport, parents have a legal responsibility to make suitable travel arrangements between home and school for their children, or to decide at what age it would be appropriate for their child to walk to school. Various independent assessments of walking routes to school were commissioned in 2015, and this work concluded in 2019.”
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Bethan Davies says we inevitably end up driving him each day. It’s inconvenient for many parents here
Why do people think that the state should do everything for them and that it is not their responsibility to provide for THEIR children. Sorry its inconvenient Ms Davies but he is YOUR child not Bridgend Councils