Birmingham parents' frustration over 'unreliable' school bus services

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New starters at two secondary schools in Sutton Coldfield are “having a terrible time” getting to and from school due to unreliable and unsafe bus services, angry parents have complained.

More than 600 mums and dads have signed a petition about bus services and journey times for children attending John Willmott School and Fairfax Academy.

Some blamed the lack of school places for families in Boldmere and New Oscott for the issue. Families in those areas said they had been forced to send their children to either John Willmott or Fairfax – instead of Plantsbrook School which is nearer.

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One mum, who wished to remain anonymous, said her 11-year-old daughter had to get up at 6.30am to catch two buses to get to John Willmott on time for 8.40am – despite living just three miles away, just off the Jockey Road.

She said: “My daughter has just started Year 7 and we’re in this position of getting two buses because there are no [school] places close by for Boldmere children. All the schools know about it and it’s something that’s called ‘The Boldmere Blackspot’.

“My child went to Boldmere Junior School and all the friendship groups have been split because they couldn’t get into the local school. We wanted them all to walk together but now we’ve got this situation of the buses being overcrowded because so many kids are travelling so far as there’s not enough places for Sutton kids.”

Sutton Vesey councillor Kath Scott (Labour) is backing parents’ concerns and put her 600-strong petition to Birmingham City Council this week.

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John Willmott SchoolJohn Willmott School
John Willmott School | Birmingham Mail/Darren Quinton

She said: “As city councillors, we want our children to feel safe, to have a reliable service, to get to school ready to learn rather than getting to school stressed about going to get a late mark which is beyond their control and not being ready to engage in their lessons.

“A number of children can’t get into their closest school which is Plantsbrook and, therefore, have been placed at John Willmott or Fairfax. Every year that cohort’s getting bigger and bigger. This year, there’s been quite a lot of kids travelling in from Sutton Vesey and the vast majority are often late for school because of the unreliable buses.

“The schools have had responses from National Express suggesting they pay between £80,000 and £100,000 to put on additional buses. It’s scandalous. Schools can’t afford to do that.

“The issue is with National Express to provide a much-improved service and they’re not responding to the needs of the community. It’s not good enough. A lot of these children are struggling - stress and anxiety is rising knowing they might not be able to get on the bus in the morning and they don’t want to be late.

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“We’ve also got to remember there are children with additional needs that use these services. We need to ensure their anxiety is alleviated and they have a reliable service so they can become independent travellers.”

On the petition, mum Natasha Smith said: “My daughter attends Fairfax and we have struggled with buses for two years. The current school services do not service Fairfax as their start time is earlier than John Willmott. We are reliant on public transport that is busy on major routes and not reliable around school times. Kids need to be safe when travelling to and from school and a review of all services needs to take place.”

Laura Rutherford simply put: “My friend’s son is having a terrible time getting to school.”

A spokesperson for National Express West Midlands, said: "National Express West Midlands operate a frequent network of bus services and have increased peak-time capacity with convenient connections and options for journeys to and from John Wilmott and Fairfax Schools. Maps and information have previously been provided to the schools to give to children and parents, explaining all of the bus travel options available to them. 

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“We want pupils to feel safe when travelling on our buses, which is why we work closely with the Safer Travel Partnership’s policing and education team to tackle anti-social behaviour, including in school sessions about responsible and respectful behaviour while travelling on public transport. The Safer Travel team are aware of concerns raised regarding the behaviour of some school pupils onboard and we will work with the team and the school to tackle these issues.

”Any pupils experiencing anti-social behaviour onboard are encouraged to report incidents to the driver, to the school or to their parents who can report this to Safer Travel online or by texting SeeSay to 81018 including the bus service number, the time and any details of the incident.”

The West Midlands Combined Authority, Fairfax Academy and John Willmott School have all been contacted for comment.

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