Long walk to school for primary pupils

FEARS of their children sitting in wet clothes during school lessons have prompted parents to question the Comhairle policy which dictates children living within two miles of their school will not be eligible for bus services.

And parents of pupils in Laxdale School, situated just outside Stornoway, are concerned that their children will be worse off, given that most other areas have bus collections starting out with the two miles radius.

Chair of Laxdale School Parent Council, Derek Smith, said: “You can’t ask kids aged six and seven to walk two miles to school.

“Some of them will be walking from Bennadrove and Moor Cottages to Laxdale School - how long is it going to take them, some will have to leave at around eight in the morning, and many of them will have to walk beside busy main roads or roads that don’t have proper pavements.

“But it’s not just the walk, think of the weather we have here, there will be days when the kids are sitting in class in their wet clothes and no parent wants that for their child.”

A decision to revise the distances which offered pupils a bus service to school was taken by the Comhairle last February in a bid to save money as part of the budget setting process.

And as bus transport is now due to cease after the Easter holidays next year as bus contracts come to an end, parents are becoming fully aware of the proposals.

The council policy states: “Primary school pupils, with the exception of pupils who are the subject of a placing request, shall be required to walk up to 3,220 metres (two miles) in the course of their journey to or from their catchment area school.”

A spokesman for the local authority highlighted that the two miles distances was ‘more generous than the statutory position’, and added: “These are the kind of financial pressures that local authorities are under. We have said hard choices have to be made but we will do so in a fair and equal way.”

It is unclear however as to what total of savings reducing school bus services will provide until action is taken, and parents fear that once the service is withdrawn, it will take time to argue its case.

Said Mr Smith: “We’ve spoken to our councillors and have been told that the policy won’t be up for discussion until after April, but the buses stop after the Easter holidays, so then it will be too late. If the buses go, we could be waiting an entire school term at the least before anything can be done about it.”

The Comhairle spokesperson however assured that there ‘is still to be a full dialogue with parents’ who wish to raise ‘understandable concerns’.

He said: “Naturally the Comhairle will be mindful of children’s safety and would require to satisfy itself that there is a safe walking route prior to withdrawal of any service.

“We will have the dialogue with parents and, while an equality impact assessment was carried out when the decision was made, the Comhairle is committed to carrying out a further assessment when all relevant factors have been evaluated.”