The Department for Education (DfE) released guidance on 2 July concerning the reopening of schools in England in September with mandatory attendance. It includes some indications of how home-to-school transport will be handled.

Significantly, the document states that an increased provision of dedicated services – including in areas where they do not currently operate – may be needed. That would be to mitigate reduced vehicle capacities on public bus routes that are likely to continue into the autumn term.

Equally notably, social distancing will not be mandatory on dedicated services from the autumn term. That is because users do not mix with the general public and “tend to be consistent,” the guidance says.

Dedicated home-to-school transport is defined as services that are used only to carry pupils to school. It may include existing or new commercial routes that carry pupils only.

However, distancing within those vehicles should still be considered “wherever possible.” That is one of several elements that must be factored into arrangements for dedicated home-to-school transport, the guidance states. Other considerations for schools include:

  • How pupils are grouped together on vehicles. Where possible, that should reflect ‘bubbles’ that are adopted within the school relating to class or year group
  • Use of hand sanitiser upon boarding and/or disembarking
  • Additional vehicle cleaning
  • Organised queuing and boarding where possible
  • The use of face coverings for children over the age of 11, where appropriate. That may include if they are likely to come into “very close” contact with people outside of their group or who they do not normally meet.

The precise approach to home-to-school transport “will need to reflect the range of measures that are reasonable in different circumstances,” says the guidance.

Also noted in the DfE document is that schools must work with local authorities (LAs) that have a statutory responsibility for home-to-school transport to ensure sufficient service provision.

New guidance for LAs is currently being evaluated by the government and the next steps will be set out soon. It will be based on the framework announced on 2 July and may involve the introduction of additional dedicated transport.

The scale of the wider issue facing home-to-school transport is illustrated in the document. Capacity on public bus services is likely to remain constrained in the autumn term, it says. Because of that, their use by pupils, particularly during peak times, “should be kept to an absolute minimum.”