With the government's plan that all children and young people will return to school and college full time from the beginning of the autumn term, Northamptonshire County Council has outlined its COVID-19 safety arrangements for home to school transport.
In the first instance, students are encouraged to walk, cycle or scoot to school if they can and if they live up to three miles from their school or further education college. This will help to reduce pressure on the public transport network for those who need it most.
If students aren’t able to walk, cycle or scoot, then parents and carers are encouraged to drive their child to school if possible. If parents or students are car-sharing with someone outside of their support bubble or family, they should share with the same people each time, open the windows for ventilation and wear a face covering wherever possible.
If students have no alternative but to use public transport, they should continue to follow government guidelines to ensure they can travel safely on the network. They should plan their journey in advance and allow more time to get to their school or college. They should wear a face covering for the entirety of their journey if they are over 11 years old and are not exempt, wash or sanitise their hands regularly and social distance where possible.
In accordance with this guidance, the council has adopted the following principles when planning school transport for September and where possible transport will be provided such that:
- Year group bubbles and minimum distancing between bubbles of 1m to apply to all mass transport. This includes bus, coach and vehicles with capacity in excess of 16 passenger seats. This will mean that we will be able to utilise between 70-80% of the vehicle’s capacity.
- For all other vehicles which include taxis and minibuses up to 16 passenger seats, transport will be planned without bubbles and without social distancing. The students assigned to these routes will form a transport bubble and will remain constant and we will not mix students from other schools on the same route.
- Where parents or guardians wish to continue to transport their children themselves then the alternative option of a mileage allowance will be available. This will be at the standard HMRC rate of 45 pence per mile for the first 10,000 miles.
- Face coverings will be encouraged for all students (scarf/face mask or similar) however this will not be compulsory and does not apply to those who are exempt. Allocated seating/area for each social bubble will be displayed on the vehicle.
- Active Travel is important for health, wellbeing and increasing independence, and students are encouraged to walk and cycle where this is feasible.
In addition to this we have instructed our operators to ensure they have robust cleaning regimes in place such that frequently touched surfaces are regularly cleansed, and that vehicles are thoroughly cleaned at the end of the day.
Cllr Jason Smithers, county council cabinet member for Highways and Place, said: “In order to effectively manage the risks that remain, things will be a bit different when children and young people return to school and college for the new academic year.
"We have been continuously working in partnership with our schools to ensure safe transport is put in place for September and that any measures are co-ordinated with those being implemented by the school. This will help minimise the risk of transmission and will provide some level of consistency for children which is very important at this time.
"We are committed to ensuring that all students can safely return to school and we want to make sure transport is not a barrier to people accessing the education they deserve."
The council has produced a supplementary Code of Conduct for students which includes advice regarding social distancing when waiting at the designated pick up points, along with expected behaviours in line with COVID regulations whilst on transport, in order to keep everyone safe.