School bus cuts: Open letter to councillors

Monday June 24th 2019

Dalkeith-High-School

The Chair of Dalkeith High School Parent Council has written an open letter to councillors about the cuts to school buses.

Dear Councillors,

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read the letter below before your discussion.

On the back of Dr Smith’s response to my questions, a meeting was held between Dalkeith High School Parent Council, Kings Park Parent Council, representatives of St David’s High School and other concerned individuals.

We would like to make the following key issues plain to councillors before the meeting of Tuesday 25th June. These are outstanding and urgent. We ask that you pause to consider and explore them.
Safety and well being

There is still confusion and error in how safe routes to school are measured. Dr Smith points out the 3 mile radius marked on the second map sent out, but as our children are not crows and legislation (Education Scotland Act, Sections 42 and 51, and the Council’s own Admission to Schools policy which was updated in December 2018) state that a safe walking route should be measured from home address to school and not therefore ‘as the crow flies’, MLC is using an unfair measure. Plainly a longer distance can be walked within a radius if it is not a straight line. To join the ‘safe route’ shown on the map issued on 31st May, many children will walk over 3 miles each way which exceeds the limit set by the Scottish Government. This is true for many addresses in Eskbank.

Please click this link to see an actual route to school for a Dalkeith High School pupil from their home address, joining and using the Council’s identified safe route. It clearly shows a distance of 3.4 miles and takes 1 hour and 8 minutes to walk. This is over the maximum set by Scottish Government.

Consultations

While it is stated that a number of consultation events took place, these were generic and not specific. Details was not provided on this issue and are still contradictory and sadly lacking. This issue was just one inside a lengthy document and in Cllr Hackett’s words, he found it ‘odd (having understood that consultation was taking place) that no parents got in touch with me’.

Contrary to Dr Smith’s assertion, Parent Councils do not know which families may be affected nor do they have the email or physical addresses for them. The council does but chose not to invite affected young people and their parents to events.

Dr Smith accepts that the implementation of this cut could have been better handled. We believe that it can clearly be demonstrated that the consultation itself was not fit for purpose either. This specific issue was overwhelmed by the bigger discussion about wider cuts, parents and young people were not meaningfully included in the process and thus not able to understand the implications or participate by commenting.
Fairness

We are not sure if councillors are aware that in addition to all of the safety issues previously highlighted, that they have voted through a situation where two children living in the same street, will receive completely different provision. A situation now exists where buses coming from Newbattle and Bonnyrigg both pick up some children within the ‘exclusion zone’ (including Eskbank,) but the third which started in a different location is being withdrawn. Some children will now walk further than those still being picked up while carrying a full bag and potentially a PE kit and / or musical instrument. There is nowhere to store wet clothes or shoes within DHS or St David’s.

This is plainly not fair and is also not in keeping with GIRFEC (Getting It Right For Every Child) standards.
If this service was simply removed from all children in the 3 mile radius zone, a situation of less than full buses driving past walking children would then exist. Clearly this is also unacceptable.

A recent (undated) badly photocopied letter sent home with P7 children through the notoriously unreliable schoolbag drop method, were addressed to “Dear Parent.” This refers to cuts to Eskbank and Easthouses. This is incorrect information as the cut is not to the whole of those areas but is only partial depending on which bus picks young people up and which is being withdrawn. Ironically, the majority of children who have had the bus withdrawn have a longer walking route than those who will continue to get free transport on the continuing bus routes.
Some families even find themselves with provision for one child but not the other. Plainly this is inequitable at many levels.

Clarity

Answers to the issues above (and others) have been impossible to get. If this information had been used in a meaningful briefing to councillors in February and in consultation, the council would not be scrambling to distribute maps and then update maps (still showing no road names) days after letters went out to parents.
Potentially affected P7 pupils have been asked to fill in forms applying for transport but have heard nothing about provision.

We believe that meaningful wider information was not available and therefore couldn’t be considered by councillors in making this decisions or presented at subsequent consultation. The only data which seems to have been presented appear to be a basic financial measure which fails at a number of levels; to account for children who, when no longer supported by school bus service, will need to move to taxi transport instead due to their support needs, no exploration of other options such as withdrawing one bus but using a bigger bus on one of the remaining routes, or of making this a paid for service and thus revenue generating. At nearly £900 per family with two children using local transport, this would be beneficial for both council and families and would mean that less well-off families ability to pay could still be more fairly assessed and managed.

While there are some leavers from DHS and St David’s, the projected numbers don’t indicate the additional new S1 who will also be affected. We believe this to be approximately 60.

As Dr Smith admits, only informal approaches have been made to Lothian Buses and there have been no formal discussions or assurances about capacity. LB state that certain routes are going over to single decker in their upcoming changes in July due to lack of use. No consideration has been made about joining up timetables.

Conclusions

We have set out serious concerns, as demonstrated by a failure to:

– correctly identify the measure which should be used to calculate route to school and withdrawing
– transport from children who are entitled (and therefore leaving the council open to challenge)
– protect the safety and well being of our children;
– meaningfully consult;
– ensure fairness for all families;
– provide meaningful and transparent information

We ask that you now pause this decision to undertake meaningful consultation, to address discriminations, explore options and find solutions with parents direct involvement.

This should be specific, targeted and properly informed by legislation on how distance is measured. Proper modelling of impacts on attendance, attainment and exclusions (issues affecting young people, their schools and indeed the council itself) should also be properly considered especially for those who face the most barriers to participation. Stating that these are the responsibility of parents for those most disadvantaged, seems naive at best.

Parents understand the pressure that the council finds itself under, but transparency, proper detailed information and clarity are essential. Parents are willing to meet with you on any and every point and to help find compromises, alternatives and solutions which can benefit all, but especially our young people.

Thank you.

Caroline Pearson.
Chair, Dalkeith High School Parent Council

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