Angry parents have hit out as children are crammed onto standing-room-only school buses that make social distancing impossible.
Images show pupils in Greater Manchester having to sit on staircases and stand in the aisles due to a lack of space on board.
Some students could also be seen sitting on luggage racks and crowding around the driver’s cab, while many were reported not to be wearing a face mask , or seen taking their covering off after they had passed the driver.
Pupils in Greater Manchester pictured crammed together while sitting on staircases, left, and in the aisles, right, while on board the Tryers Coaches Service to St Patrick’s RC High School
The pictures were taken of the 910 and 909 services from St Patrick’s RC High School in Eccles to Cadishead, which are operated by Tyrers Coaches and subsidised by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).
Government guidance states that dedicated school buses in Greater Manchester do not need to abide by the normal 1m social distancing rules.
The reason given for this is that ‘pupils on dedicated school services do not mix with the general public.’
But parents say crowding on board the buses undermines the measures implemented by schools to stop the spread of coronavirus.
One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said more bus services needed to be made available by TfGM to stop the issue.
She said: ‘The bus is completely overcrowded and there is a risk of Covid spreading.
‘Some kids are wearing masks, others aren’t. A teacher did come on to warn kids to keep their masks on but some just took them off afterwards.
‘In school, they are in strict bubbles but on the bus the years mix together and there’s no social distancing.
‘We need additional buses so that the kids don’t have to stand up and fall over each other.’
Alison Byrne, head teacher of St Patrick’s RC High School, said: ‘We are aware of the issue of over-crowding on the school buses and have been in liaison with Salford Local authority who have been supporting us to provide additional services; this has been communicated to parents.
Pupils waiting to board the 909 Tryers Coaches service between Cadishead and St Patrick’s RC High School in Eccles. A spokesperson said the firm was abiding by Government guidance
‘All children have been instructed on a daily basis to wear a mask on the bus and staff supervise this at the end of the school day.
‘Until a resolution is found, it may be in pupils’ best interests to find alternative transport to and from school where possible.
‘We are working in very difficult times and, as always, are doing our best to provide the best possible education and support for all our children and families.’
Another parent, whose son attends Unsworth Academy in Bury, reported similar scenes on Tuesday morning [Sept 15] at Radcliffe bus station.
He claimed that many students boarding the 524, 712 and 995 Tyrers Coaches services were not wearing a mask and had to stand on the bus.
He said: ‘I dropped my son off this morning and went to park at Lidl to do some shopping and I was astonished by what I saw.
Pupils standing on board the coach. Government guidance states that dedicated school buses in Greater Manchester do not need to abide by the normal 1m social distancing rules
‘Three buses went past and they were all absolutely packed. I saw 10 students get on one bus and only one of them was wearing a mask.’
The parent praised Unsworth Academy for their response to the pandemic, but said more needed to be done to ensure children wear face masks.
He said: ‘The school has put a lot of measures in place to have school bubbles so that if someone tests positive in that bubble they can isolate.
‘There is no point doing that if on that bus all the year groups are mixing together – it is just ruining what the academy is trying to do.
‘The school has been very proactive but the bus company needs to enforce the wearing of masks.
‘This is a hotspot area for coronavirus and there must be thousands of children getting the bus across Greater Manchester.
‘There is no point in children wearing masks in school if they don’t wear them on buses where it is an absolute breeding ground.’
Guidance for children boarding school buses
The Department for Education states that it is important, wherever possible, to maximise social distancing within vehicles.
Children either sit with their ‘bubble’ on school transport, or with the same constant group of children each day.
Children should clean their hands before boarding transport and again on disembarking.
Additional cleaning of vehicles is put in place.
Organised queuing and boarding is put in place.
Ventilation of fresh air (from outside the vehicle) should be maximised, particularly through opening windows and ceiling vents.
A spokesperson for Unsworth Academy said: ‘Unsworth Academy have raised numerous concerns with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) regarding social distancing measures on transport to-and-from school.
‘School leaders have repeatedly enquired about the implementation of additional bus services in order to reduce the risk of overcrowding
‘Unfortunately, TfGM have stated that this is not possible due to a lack of funding.
‘To enable their children to get to school safely, the Academy has been working closely with parents to press for improvements in public transport provision during these difficult times.’
Tory MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford, agreed that more frequent services were needed in order to solve any issues of overcrowding.
Mr Wakeford said: ‘We raised the issue with TFGM that more buses were needed before the children went back to school.
‘Students not wearing masks is not helpful in this situation and schools need to be setting a reminder to their students about wearing face coverings.
‘Judgement needs to be used by bus drivers. With coronavirus, the number needs to be lower so we can all abide by the guidelines.’
A spokesperson for Tyrers Coaches said the firm was abiding by Government guidance, and has implemented a number of safety measures on services.
Government advice states that ‘local authorities will not be required to uniformly apply the social distancing guidelines for public transport, on dedicated school or college transport.’
TfGM’s interim head of bus services, Alison Chew, said: ‘I’d like to reassure those using the bus network that we’re working hard with operators to make it safe and ensure that government guidance is being followed.
‘The guidance around dedicated school bus services – which doesn’t currently require operators to limit the number of children on board – is set by the Department for Transport (DfT), and it is the responsibility of each individual operator to ensure this is followed.
‘We know space is limited on school bus services, which is why we’re encouraging those who can to walk or cycle and why we are putting on almost 300 additional trips a day.
‘I would also ask that students continue to take responsibility for keeping themselves and others safe by following a few simple measures: wear a face mask, clean and sanitise your hands regularly, use contactless payment and keep your distance from others where possible.’