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No social distancing for schoolchildren travelling on public transport in September

Children going back to schools across the West Midlands in September will not have to observe social distancing on school buses.

Documents from Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) show school bus operators may be asked to increase capacity while space on public transport remains limited due to Covid-19 rules.

Pupils in all year groups are being told to return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term, and schools are instructed to maintain social distancing “wherever possible” within buildings.

A video shared by the Local Democracy Reporting Service showed how a “socially distanced” classroom may look as schools prepared to take in more pupils.

But Government advice states pupils will not be required to keep two metres or “one metre plus apart” on dedicated school transport – used by more than 32,000 five to 18-year-olds in the West Midlands.

Distancing should be observed “wherever possible”, while pupils should ideally be grouped together in their school “bubbles”, use hand sanitiser, and adopt “organised queuing”.

In addition, children aged over 11 should use face coverings, though exemptions will apply.

But the need for social distancing remains for pupils using public transport – which may only be able to cater for a third of the pupils who normally use it, according to TfWM.

Documents to West Midlands Combined Authority’s transport delivery committee show more than 28,000 pupils in the region who normally use public transport may need to travel via other routes.

Measures being taken by TfWM to address the challenges of the new school year include:

* Requiring all drivers of home to school transport including taxi drivers are regularly tested for Covid-19

* Working with “direct school closed services” providers to increase capacity for pupils, as well as special educational needs (SEND) transport services

* Increasing frequency and coverage of the public transport network “may need to be considered, especially for pupils living in more isolated or areas of deprivation”

* Encouraging more walking and cycling for school trips

* Ensure councils’ Emergency Active Travel Fund measures are focused on schools, and aim to make safer cycling routes available as well as providing cycle locks and cycling courses

* “Managing the inevitable rise in car trips through park and stride and other appropriate mechanisms”

* Staggering school starts

Pete Bond, TfWM’s director of integrated network services said during the meeting: “The school travel restart is obviously the next big time-scale across the wider public transport network that we need to manage quite significantly.

“We have had lots of restart dates for certain things, all of which we are pleased to to be able to say have been managed in a very structured way and that the impact of those has been less than anticipated.

“But I don’t think any of us are under any illusion that the September restart date will [not] be quite a significant point in the public transport calendar.”

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