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Pupils: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL6698, tabled on 9 July 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the practicality of social distancing for secondary school pupils travelling to and from school, in particular in rural areas; and what assessment they have made of the findings in the analysis by the Education Policy Institute Getting pupils back into school: the unresolved problem of transport, published on 3 July.

Answered on

23 July 2020

We recognise that ensuring there is sufficient, appropriate transport for all children to return to school safely is a very significant challenge, including in rural areas. We are working closely with the Department for Transport to achieve this and to ensure local authorities have robust plans in place for the autumn term.

Our guidance published on 2 July outlines steps which schools and local authorities should take:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools#section-2-school-operations.

The advice for passengers on public transport to adopt a social distance of two metres, or a ‘one metre plus’ approach where this is not possible, does not apply on dedicated school transport. This is because pupils on dedicated school transport services do not mix with the general public on those journeys.

As school transport is arranged by local authorities for a planned number of children, demand for services can be managed in a way which is not possible on public transport. This predictability, which public transport does not afford, will allow for planning so that protective measures can be put in place. For example, in some circumstances, it may be possible for children to sit with other children from their school bubble on school transport. We know this won’t always be possible and where that is case, other measures such as the use of hand sanitiser upon boarding and/or disembarking, additional cleaning of vehicles, organised queuing and boarding will be more important. We will publish additional guidance for dedicated school transport shortly.

In many areas, pupils normally make extensive use of the wider public transport system, particularly public buses. We expect that public transport capacity will continue to be constrained in the autumn term. Its use, particularly in peak times, should be kept to an absolute minimum so that the capacity is available for those that have no alternative method of travel. Schools should encourage parents, staff and pupils to walk or cycle to school if at all possible. The government has announced a £2 billion package to promote cycling and walking, including to support pop-up bicycle lanes and widened pavements. For some families, driving children to school will also be an option. Those using public transport should refer to the Department for Transport’s safer travel guidance for passengers, available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-for-passengers.