How can tech be used to help children get to school safely?

And what is the new normal for home-to-school transport?

The pandemic has demonstrated like nothing before the importance of school for the health and functionality of the UK economy, as well as the future of our country. On top of the obvious priority given to the importance of education as an end in itself, a healthy economy needs its workforce freed from the responsibilities of home schooling and 24/7 childcare.

With safety and social distancing being major considerations, efforts to ensure that rules are met within classrooms, along corridors and all aspects of the school premises, have been critical priorities.

But ensuring that children are protected when travelling to and from school is a large and growing consideration. Whilst those who live close to a school may be able to walk, those who don’t or can’t often rely on school or public transport, and with social distancing essential, modifications must be made.

Technology is becoming an important tool for both parents and teachers who have concerns that social distancing rules are still observed after the school bell has rung. The ability to track and trace pupils who use a dedicated school bus service, as well as maximising efforts to maintain social distancing whilst onboard, provides an additional layer of reassurance and control, especially as tighter restrictions are being brought in across the country.

With public transport a continuing concern and low in public confidence for safety, dedicated transport with allocated student groups is becoming an attractive option for parents and school organisers alike. With many parents still working from home the car has become the default option, leading to increased road congestion and higher levels of pollution at the school gates. Below are Kura’s top pieces of advice for schools looking to provide safe home-to-school transport for pupils.

“Technology is becoming an important tool for both parents and teachers who have concerns that social distancing rules are still observed after the school bell has rung”

Make sure social distancing is incorporated into the service

When schools select a transport provider, it’s essential that the service incorporates an effective social distancing strategy to ensure pupil safety. For example, investing in a service that encourages the first passengers that board to sit at the rear of the vehicle, with every other seat out of use, will help to maximise protection. Similarly, drivers can exit the vehicle when pupils board the service to allow safer access to pupils.

Use a service that has contact tracing capabilities

According to Kura’s parent survey taken earlier this year, increasing numbers of parents are concerned about being able to track their children during the school run. When asked about their child’s journey to and from school, one in five parents (21%) reported that they would be reassured if they were able to track their child’s journey each day.

Similarly, Google searches for ‘school track and trace’ jumped by 233% from September to October this year compared with the previous period, showing a continued need from parents to ensure their child’s safety at every point on their journey to and from school.

With these new concerns arising as a consequence of the pandemic, there is now tech available that not only allows parents to be alerted when their child embarks and disembarks a service via a tracking fob, but this technology can also be used to support contact tracing to minimise infection.

If a confirmed or suspected case is reported, some school transport providers generate a contact-tracing report that provides schools with the data they need. This data can help the school to quickly identify those in contact with the student showing COVID-19 symptoms during the journey and alert parents swiftly.

Increase the capacity on popular school travel routes

Given that each vehicle will carry fewer pupils-per-journey than before COVID-19 to support social distancing requirements, schools must also think about how all pupils who need school- transport can get to school on time.

Assigning larger or multiple vehicles to each route is an effective measure for this. Similarly schools can run shuttle services, where one vehicle runs the same route multiple times – with sanitising precautions taken between each trip – picking up the pupils who live furthest away from the school first, and then making another trip for pupils who live closer to the school. This maintains the ability for pupils to stay in a ‘bubble’ and remain socially distanced on their journey to school, and supports the efforts made to keep pupils as safe as possible throughout the year. 

According to recent ONS figures, two-thirds of parents were worried about sending their children back to school this September – and the recent spike in cases across the UK will have done little to allay these fears. Whilst schools are doing everything they can to ensure their facilities are COVID-secure, schools in some local areas have seen a continued rise in cases.

Focusing on every aspect of the school environment, including journeys to and from school, should continue to be a priority. Providing pupils and parents with a safe and socially distanced transport option is becoming increasingly possible using tracking technology. Schools should be acting now and investing in the right offering to ensure pupils can travel in a safe and secure manner.

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