‘An absolute nightmare’ – School transport chaos as Birmingham children return to class


The council’s specialised transport service for children with disabilities has been described as a ‘shambles’ by parents, after some children were left without any kind of transport on their return to school.

And the service has also been blasted by schools and local councillors, with one headteacher describing the situation as a ‘fiasco’.

The council’s SEND service transports nearly 6,000 children with special educational needs and/or disabilities to and from school every day, with the service back up and running as children returned to school.

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However the service has been slammed as ‘unacceptable’, with parents and teachers reporting how:

  • Some children have not been collected at all, with individual schools having to make arrangements for transport.
  • Schools have been left in the dark about travel arrangements less than 18 HOURS before pupils were due to return.
  • Unannounced doorstep visits have been made to pupils to inform them of routes using incorrect data, meaning several turned up at the wrong addresses.
  • Parents have been unable to contact the council’s helpline, with some saying they were on hold for up to five hours with no response.
  • No information has been provided to some parents about the drivers/guides on each mode of transport.

One parent who has suffered due to the apparent lack of organisation has been Mary Carter, who received a call on the day of her daughter’s return to school to be told that her route had been aborted.

“Today no transport arrived,” she said

“At 11.55am I received a call to say the route had been aborted. No communication. I was also told that there may not be a route available home from school either.

“This is unacceptable. I really thought we had turned a corner. A prompt phone call on Aug 28th told me we had the same guide as last year and a visit from our new driver on Tuesday Sept 1 (though unscheduled) was a welcome thing.

“After three years of fighting this failed service i’m exhausted. My daughter’s health and wellbeing is suffering which I will not stand for. I am a non-driver and reliant on this service to get her to school and under the current circumstances I would have thought getting these vulnerable children to school safely after everything would have been the council’s priority.

“Having no transport means we have to take public transport or rely on friends which puts everyone at risk. Adhering to the current guidelines is a must for our children, family and friends.

“Things have to change. I will do everything in my power to keep my daughter safe and in an education she deserves.”

Another left in the lurch was Keely Jones of Ward End, whose son attends Oscott Manor school.

And she described the situation as a ‘nightmare’ after receiving little communication from the council prior to her son returning on Friday.

“It’s been a shambles for the last 12 months if I’m honest, but obviously more so recently.,” she said.

“The trouble is the number you’ve got for Travel Assist is constantly engaged, so you can’t even get through. It’s engaged from 7am to 5pm, so that’s been going on constantly for the past two weeks that I’ve been trying.

“Apparently there were letters sent out but I never received a letter, but that letter was just to say ‘if you don’t hear off us by Aug 31, do X’ – but I’m saying that’s no good, because you’re looking at a few days notice to tell parents what’s going on. And then they say ‘if you’re having problems, use this number and you won’t have an issue’ – well that number is the one that’s constantly engaged.

“I’m on a forum now on Facebook, called SEND local, and there have been loads of parents on there asking ‘has anyone been able to get hold of Travel Assist’ – so from what I can gather there’s been loads of parents that have been having the same problem, and even schools.

“They sent me one email saying ‘Son’s bus due at 8.05′ – that was it. They didn’t tell me who the guide was, didn’t tell me who the driver was, didn’t tell me where the route was. Then when I found out who the guide was, it turns out they’re off sick, so now they’ve had to try and find another replacement. But before Monday I’d had no information whatsoever.

“And then my friend, whose son goes to my son’s school, today contacted me telling me that his bus didn’t even show up. So the school’s had to pick him up today. So she’s messaged me this morning really upset because the bus hasn’t showed up – she’s rang the school, who don’t know anything about it, and then she’s messaged me back saying that the school was coming to get him, but that there were a few kids who hadn’t been picked up. So they’ve had to come out and pick her son up.

“It’s been stressful because obviously my son has got very complex needs and not being able to explain to him who the guide is, who the driver is, who’s on your bus, has been horrible. There’ll be no one there that he knows.

“I know they’ve got to do it in bubbles, but my argument is they knew from June that we’d be having bubbles. We all knew from June when the education was going back. And there have been no kids since March – so they’ve had a good five months to get ready for this. And it just seems now that the last few weeks it’s gone wrong, and seems like nobody knows what they’re doing properly.

“It’s an absolute joke, and the only reason why I know now is because I’ve bugged them. My friend still doesn’t even know what time her son is being picked up, what the driver’s name is or who’s the guide. She’s been told nothing.

“It’s an an absolute nightmare. And don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the transport, because I work as well. But I’m still nervous because I never know if the bus is going to turn up, who the driver will be, who the guide will be, and I’m not here a lot of the time because I work. So I’m now worried about being at work and having the stress.”

One headteacher, who wished to remain anonymous, outlined in an email how pupils and parents have been ‘experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress due to not having information needed to prepare autistic children for a return to school post lockdown’, while also pointing to the lack of information on routes, guides and drivers and the fact that some safety information is incorrect, meaning that some children may not be able to be transported safely.

“It is absolutely a last resort to escalate our concerns in this way but unfortunately it is necessary at this time as we are doing a huge disservice to vulnerable children and families,” the headteacher said.

“They should be returning to school tomorrow in a calm and well supported way which sadly will not be the case due to the travel fiasco.”

And Conservative Councillor Alex Yip (Sutton Wylde Green) has also criticised the council, accusing it of ‘failing’ families.

“I have spoken to distraught parents, teachers and guides on the phone who are so frustrated and angry about what they have described as the chaos with the service for yet another year,” he said.

“Despite being given repeated reassurances that the service would be fully operational and the repeated mistakes of the past learnt, we have seen the most vulnerable and in need members of our society- children with disabilities- utterly failed yet again by this council.

“Despite having months to make arrangements, schools have been left on their own with only days of notice, parents not told when or how their children will be taken to school, insufficient numbers of guides, drivers or routes. The situation has long been completely unacceptable.

“This is yet another example of this council repeatedly failing families and no one taking responsibility or accountability.”

A spokesperson for the council said in a statement: “Our Travel Assist team has been working hard to make sure that safe and reliable transport is in place for the almost 6,000 children and young people who use home to school transport each day.

“The start of term this year is unlike any other we have experienced as, in accordance with government guidance, we have increased the number of vehicles available to enable pupils to travel in their bubbles, carried out risk assessments, provided PPE and employed additional travel guides.

“For the vast majority of families, home to school transport has run smoothly this week but we are aware that there have been some issues for a small number of families and schools.

“We apologise to any families and schools who have been affected. We are working closely with our providers to resolve issues as soon as possible and have also made additional phone lines available to ensure families are able to get hold of the team. Families can contact the team on 0121 303 4955 between 7am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday or email travelassist@birmingham.gov.uk

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