September 08 2020

Kathryn Pulham, Finance Director at Pulham & Sons Coaches, writes about the return of their home to school transport services, and the work they have put into making sure school pupils can travel safely.

Last week saw the return of our Home to School Transport operations. We faced this with a mix of excitement for having vehicles on the road and trepidation in making sure we delivered what we said we would. I don’t believe any coach operator serious about the quality of their operations hasn’t doubted whether they have done enough.

We have spent the summer writing and rewriting risk assessments as new advice has emerged. Training is an essential part of a successful operation so we’ve trained and retrained our staff using all manner of online platforms.

Much has evolved over recent months, yet Covid-19 is still the biggest topic of conversation and people continue to be genuinely frightened. I have often wondered whether we have just become immune to living with Covid regimes in our business all of these months, so I have felt the need to be extra cautious when developing and implementing systems and protocols. We need to recognise that some parents are still genuinely scared for their children. Some children, perhaps not surprisingly, are affected by developing mental health issues which have now caused them to be too anxious to travel on the school bus.

We have purposefully kept our public facing policies simple despite being bolstered by extensive background risk assessments – a basic list of do’s and don’ts is essential and infographics are useful for posters and signage. We’ve taken the stance that face coverings were important on school buses, (after all they are required in shops and supermarkets) and encouraged parents to talk to their children about boarding and alighting procedures, bubble seating, eating and drinking as well as sitting sensibly and removing litter and personal possessions.

One of our key aims in any communications with schools and parents has been reassuring them of the researched and practiced systems we have in place to ensure the safety of staff and students. Today we really felt we had achieved that when a parent told the nation on BBC Breakfast that we had done everything possible in line with government guidance which, let’s face it, has been open to much interpretation.

We accepted a long time ago that Covid isn’t going anywhere. We have adapted our business model and persuaded drivers that touring, tips and up-selling water isn’t the be-all and end-all in times of national crisis!  We have provided guidance to local authorities on our school transport protocols and encouraged dialogue around Baroness Vere’s funding for additional home to school coach services.

The big question for parents is whether it is safe to send their child on the school bus. With the right risk assessments and protocols, it absolutely is. In fact, we believe it’s safer than being in the supermarket where numerous items are handled multiple times. Referring to public transport last week, TfL’s Transport Commissioner Andy Byford said “we need to make sure people feel safe, not just that they are safe”. The key thing now is using this as an opportunity to promote this message to the wider public; travelling on public transport is a safe place to be.

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