PRIMARY school pupils won’t be expected to catch regular buses alongside members of the public under new plans to reduce the cost of school transport.
Monmouthshire County Council consulted on its home-to-school transport policy throughout June, including a proposal to make better use of regular bus services as a way of cutting the £6.5 million a year it spends on bussing youngsters to school, and reducing number of buses on the roads.
But Conservative councillor for Shirenewton, Louise Brown, said she had fears about the plan to put pupils on buses that any member of the public can hop on or off.
She said: “I’m concerned about using public buses rather than the dedicated school buses from a safeguarding aspect as, though the bus driver may have a DBS (criminal record) check, travelling members of the public do not have to as they are not working or volunteers and the driver has limited scope to see what is going on at the back of the bus.”
She also said she was unhappy the council has proposed cutting the notice period parents will receive if their children’s school transport is withdrawn. The council could withdraw transport if it is determined there is a safe walking route and parents will be told before the end of a term.
Cllr Brown said she believed the council has proposed assessing the walking route as safe it it is “the least dangerous.”
Cllr Martyn Groucutt, the cabinet member for education, said the plan to increase the use of public transport only relates to pupils of secondary school age, who are at least 11.
He said secondary school children already catch public buses, including ones that pass his home in Abergavenny and told her: “I can see them passing my house on the way to King Henry School every day and to the best of my knowledge there has never been any incident of a safeguarding nature with them.
“I would point out there is no proposal that primary age children will be put on to public transport it is only secondary age pupils.”
He added: “Drivers of public services vehicles carrying children in this way are subject to the same DBS checks as those who are simply driving school transport vehicles.”
The cabinet member said he understood the point Cllr Brown had raised but hoped she could also understand he was seeking to address the “climate catastrophe” and the “need to get to zero carbon as quickly as possible”.
He said reducing the number of buses in use would address this and help the authority save money.
On the safe routes to school the councillor said there is an “objective” measure used to determine if a route is safe and said: “I don’t accept we look at the route that is least dangerous rather than the safest.”
The council also expects that primary age children will be supervised on their way to school by a parent or other responsible person.
Monmouthshire council has previously said making use of public service buses for school transport will also help maintain routes for the wider community.
A council scrutiny committee was unable to consider the results of the consultation last week, due to extra time being allocated to discussion on potential Gypsy Traveller sites, but the cabinet will consider a report in September and an updated policy could be adopted in October ready for the 2024/25 academic year.