Social distancing won’t be required on Torbay’s school buses

Social distancing rules will not apply on dedicated school buses for pupils in Torbay.

The same rules will apply as in the rest of Devon, with the public barred from specific services.

Torbay Council says the Government public transport rules will not apply on dedicated school or college transport, but children may be seated in year groups to reflect the ‘bubbles’ in schools.

Social distancing will be in force if pupils use normal scheduled bus and train services, along with all the guidance for public transport including wearing face coverings from the age of 11.

A senior councillor urged parents to give their children as much information as possible about the return to school to help them prepare for the start of term in September.

The council has been working with Stagecoach to set up a series of dedicated school buses with a £100,000 Government grant.
Extra buses will be running across services 12, 22 and 23, at set times:
• Route 12 to Brixham – additional services leaving Torquay Harbour at 7.55am and 8.05am

• Route 22 to Paignton Community College, Roselands and South Devon College – additional services leaving Torquay Harbour at 7.48am and 8.15am

• Route 23 to South Devon College – additional services leaving Paignton Bus Station at 8.01am and 8.25am.

The council says on its website: “Where your child uses dedicated school or college transport (that is transport that does not cater for the general public), the guidance for public transport will not apply.

“Your child may be asked to use a regular seating plan on this transport (to reflect where possible the bubbles that are used within school), and measures will be put in place to ensure vehicles are cleaned regularly and boarding is managed.”

The local authority has been working with education providers to develop individual plans with measures to minimise risk of infection including:

• staggered start, break and finish times

• increased hygiene, handwashing and cleaning

• children remaining in consistent groups

• limiting the amount of shared resources, spaces and practical activities.

The council said in a statement: “As we approach the final weeks of the summer holidays, it’s time to start thinking about getting your child ready for their return to school.

“Returning to school after lockdown is no easy task, we’ve been working closely with all of our local schools and colleges as they prepare to safely welcome back all pupils this September.

“The return to school this year will be a little different to normal, we have been working with all education providers to help them implement the latest Department for Education guidance, create robust risk assessments and take careful mitigating steps to contain the virus.”

Cllr Cordelia Law, the council’s Cabinet member for children’s services, said: “It is vital that children and young people return to school and college for their educational progress, wellbeing and their wider development.

“We recognise that the return to school will be exciting for some children and overwhelming for others.

“By providing your child with as much information as possible about their return you can help them mentally prepare.

“We’ve been working closely with all education providers to ensure a number of important risk reduction measures have been put in place to help students and teachers return to learning with confidence.

“On our dedicated ‘Returning to school safely’ web pages you can find lots of advice and support.”

Pupils travelling from Torquay and Paignton to Exeter College will be able to use coaches as a rail replacement service organised by Devon County Council.

One coach will depart from Paignton train station, and two from Torquay train station including a pick-up at Torre from the stop opposite Regents Close.

Pupils that use the GWR service will be able to use the normal timetabled services which already have adequate capacity.

Cllr Mike Morey, Cabinet member for infrastructure, environment and culture, said the council’s highways team had worked with Stagecoach on the plan for extra capacity on some of the busiest routes.

He said; “Student and public safety is paramount, anyone travelling on public transport whether to school or work should adhere to all health and safety messages which includes wearing of a face covering.”

Mike Watson, managing director of Stagecoach South West, said: “By working with Torbay Council, we have been able to ensure we can continue to keep the region moving safely with the introduction of additional school buses.

“These dedicated school buses will ensure that the back to school rush is managed effectively allowing us to maintain high level of social distancing on our normal services.

“As well as the additional buses we have also increased our cleaning regime and social distancing measures on board our entire fleet.  We are really looking forward to welcoming the students back on board this September.”

Children using dedicated home to school transport will not be required to social distance as they are moving to a single destination. To ensure passenger safety, steps such as seating plans, additional cleaning regimes and PPE for transport escorts and drivers are in place.

Children on home to school transport over the age of 11 should wear a face covering if it is safe for them to do so.