Call for public consultation as disabled school children asked to walk mile to bus stops
The prospective parliamentary candidate for Northampton North has asked for a public consultation over new plans to make disabled school children walk a mile to bus stop.
The 'initiative' will mean children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) - who currently get picked up by a minibus or taxi from their homes - might instead have to walk one mile to be picked up from a bus stop instead.
The county council has called the scheme, it is set to introduce to parents and children on November 4, 'Pick Up and Set Down Points'.
The idea being, Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) said, will help 'promote independence in young people', 'increase physical activity', 'reduce congestion and emissions' and 'reduce the amount of time children are travelling in a bus or taxi'.
But Sally Keeble, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Northampton North, said the initiative should have been thought about during the lighter months.
She said: “This is a major change in service and the county council should carry out a public consultation on it. The council should withdraw these proposals and go through a proper public consultation process.
"This is not the time to do it. It's getting very dark and NCC has turned off lots of its street lights and this is the time of year parents worry about their children, let alone those walking to a bus terminal.
"If there is to be this type of scheme introduced it needs to be supported by a very thorough programme so that parents can feel confident about the safety and well being of their children.
"It's always important to remember that children with special needs, they maybe quite complex. It may relate to their response to traffic, and unexpected incidents which have to be factored in."
But councillor Jason Smithers, NCC cabinet member for highways and place, said the use of pick up points is detailed within the existing county council home to school transport policy, and does not represent a change in policy.
He said: "We are actively engaging with parents, and are listening to their concerns.
"We are also working to introduce an independent travel training programme for suitable students later this year, which underlines our commitment to helping to develop independence in the young people of the county.
“We are not asking that children walk alone in the dark, and would expect parents to accompany their children should they feel they are unable to walk by themselves.”
The new scheme will be rolled out to selected children who attend the Beehive Centre and Northgate School Arts College
Sharalee Webb, executive headteacher, Northgate School Arts College (Academy Trust), which incorporates The Bee Hive, said at no point has anyone said that SEND pupils will be made to walk alone in the dark.
She said: "NCC are piloting a pick-up point service for some pupils - for whom it is appropriate - a transport model that has worked effectively in the past.
"All of the families in the pilot will have the opportunity to discuss their individual child’s needs once they have received a letter from NCC in the next few days. If it is not appropriate for their child then they will not be included in the pilot.
"We already do travel training with many of the young people at Northgate School, particularly those who are preparing to leave school, and a number of our pupils currently travel to and from school independently. Independent travel training is an important element in the ‘Preparation for Adulthood’ document that supports the curriculum offered in SEND schools."