Parents say their children face an “unsafe” walk to school of more than two hours if the council doesn’t reinstate their local school bus route.

North Lanarkshire announced in February that only families more than two miles from primary or three miles from secondary schools qualify automatically.

Changes will take effect in August 2024 for secondary schools and August 2025 for primary schools. 

But at the same time they announced the changes in February, the council promised parents that the bus route from Millerston and Stepps to Chryston High School would be maintained thanks to a historical assessment which had found the route unacceptable.

Then, in April, the council sent another letter to parents. In it, they said they had carried out a new assessment and found an acceptable walking route. As a result, the council informed parents that they were no longer eligible for school transportation.

Students from the far end of the catchment area in Millerston face a walk of up to three miles to school each day, with most of the one-hour walk taking place along the A80. Students from Stepps face a roughly 45-minute walk of just over two miles.

Lorraine Kerr, chair of the Stepps Primary School Parent Council, one of the Chryston feeder schools, said that parents at her school were “not at all aware” of the changes before they were told by parents at the high school.

”You can imagine our shock and despair.

“It’s okay for me who has a car and can work my diary so that I can get my child to school every day. But what about those who can’t?”

For those families who are unable to drive, pupils will likely need to walk along the A80 to get to school. 

An existing public bus route could take students to school, but it departs only once per hour. Based on the timetable, students would likely be arriving shortly after 8am – before the school is officially open – or after classes have begun at 9am.

The Herald: Students walking to school in wet weather will not have pavements on both side of the street, and streetlights will not directly illuminate their walking path during dark mornings or evenings.Students walking to school in wet weather will not have pavements on both side of the street, and streetlights will not directly illuminate their walking path during dark mornings or evenings. (Image: Lorraine Kerr)

Ms Kerr said that although map apps estimate the walk at around 48 minutes (if coming directly from Stepps Primary), it will likely be longer for students carrying school bags and especially during winter months when they will be traveling in the dark and potentially wet weather.

She has walked the route herself, and said that the pavements are not always treated for weather or kept clear, and since the recent removal of speed cameras, she worries that traffic will be more dangerous along the dual carriageway.

With students now facing a longer and more challenging walk to school, Ms Kerr said that it could make attendance more of an issue. According to Scottish Government data, North Lanarkshire reported Scotland’s second-lowest school attendance rate in 2022/23 with 88.6%, and she is concerned cuts to transportation could make attendance worse.

“It’s a real focus, every meeting I go to there’s a focus on attendance and getting children to school,” she said.

“What does the council think it will do to attendance to remove the transportation to get children to school?”

The Herald: The pavements are not always trimmed, making it difficult for students to see traffic and walk along the pavements, parents said.The pavements are not always trimmed, making it difficult for students to see traffic and walk along the pavements, parents said. (Image: Lorraine Kerr)

Lesley Giudici of Chryston High School Parent Council said that the transportation changes will not only impact families with children along the bus route, but also people living in the community around the high school.

Chryston High and Primary School straddle the same intersection, and Ms Giudici said that if more parents are driving their children to school rather than sending them on the bus, it will mean more congestion at the school gates. 

This will not only disrupt the locals, she said, it will also make it more dangerous for the students who do opt to make the walk to school.

Not to mention, of course, the Scottish rain.

“We’re 2.9 miles from the school,” Ms Giudici said. “That would take children well over an hour to get to school because they’re not walking at speed with all their bags. By the time they’ve walked in the rain for over an hour, to then sit in wet clothes for almost seven hours, only to walk home another hour at the end of the day? It’s not great for their health at all.”

On top of the concerns about the walking route, parents expressed frustration that they were caught unawares by the council’s decision.

After initially being promised an exemption to the changes, parents said that they don’t understand the council’s reasoning for conducting a new assessment or how the route could have been improved in the meantime to be made more acceptable.

The reversal made the route the latest consequence of a change in council policy, which previously provided transportation to anyone living more than two miles from secondary school or one mile from primary school. 

The council cited rising transportation costs when they announced the changes in February. Council figures estimate that transportation costs have risen by 52% since 2021/22, meaning the annual cost for transporting a pupil to and from school is £1,305.

A spokesperson for the council said that the “historical walking route assessment” had found the route between Millerston and Stepps unacceptable.

But that changed this year and the council now expects parents to take the responsibility for getting children to school.

"Following a request to review the walking route, an assessment has been carried out recently by independent infrastructure specialists and the Stepps route to Chryston High School has been deemed acceptable.

“Legislation states that parents and carers remain responsible to get their child to school safely where no dedicated transport is provided.”