Russell Hargrave reports on the latest problems with the council’s new school transport policy
Angry parents are demanding that Waltham Forest Council conducts an inquiry into the “chaos” of its new school transport scheme for vulnerable children.
At the start of the new school term children with special educational needs were left on busy roads without lifts to school and some have missed classes completely, in the latest controversy to hit the assisted transport programme.
The problems arose after changes introduced by CT Plus, the company responsible for taking vulnerable children to and from school. Pupils using specially-adapted buses for school travel had previously been collected from their homes, but under the new scheme they use a series of ‘pick-up points’ around the borough.
However, some families were not told which pick-up points to use until the last few days before the new term began, and some buses turned up late or did not arrive at all. One local mum, Vicky Kemp, described how worried she was about the effect on her son, who uses a wheelchair and has been picked up from his home by a minibus for the last ten years.
The old system was “quite straightforward, very easy,” Vicky told the Echo, “but in this new term we discovered that we have to go to a pick-up point, which is two streets from where we live, and stand on the corner of the road and wait for a period of time which is unknown.
“It is just so unpredictable.”
Vicky explained that her son’s condition means that he struggles to keep himself warm. “It’s so worrying, they’re just not thinking about the children’s health.”
Samantha Halil, who lives in Chingford and whose five-year old son needs assisted transport, said that she got less than 72 hours’ notice that the pick-up system was changing. The bus was 35 minutes late that first morning and late again in returning her son in the afternoon. “After half-an-hour I was thinking: ‘Where is my child?’” said Samantha, adding that he had been left “agitated and distressed”.
The scale of the problem is laid bare in an email seen by the Echo, sent to several local parents by Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, which states that CT Plus received 1,500 phone calls during the first week after term began.
Dozens of worried families and local campaigners have also demanded that the council investigates what has gone wrong, in an open letter sent to council leaders and CT Plus executives.
It says: “This September saw the school transport system thrown into chaos for many families, causing excessive stress to those involved not only to the children and their families but even including the drivers and escorts themselves. This is impacting upon our children’s education.
“We are asking for an investigation into what has gone wrong as a matter of urgency and an ongoing plan of action to be put in place to ensure this will never happen again.”
In August the Echo revealed that the new contract between the council and CT Plus targeted savings of £1.2million from the budget over the next four years.
Waltham Forest Council issued a statement on behalf of CT Plus: “We apologise for this short notice [to changes] and the disruption to services for children but are committed to working with the council to resolving this in a timely and effective manner.”