Just as I was getting my head around the idea that my little girl would be starting her school journey at a specialist setting I was informed that school transport would be provided. What, free? From day one? But she can’t go on a bus or get in a taxi without me, that’s impossible. She won’t cope, I won’t cope. I’ll at least drive her in for the first week or two.
As with many things happening at the time, a professional would gently tell me that this is how it was done and no, I could not just drive her in for a while. Logistically that would be very hard with so many children with complex needs arriving at the school, multiple buses and taxis, and a highly choreographed routine of safely helping the children in.
So we had to put her on a bus, from day one.
We could not meet the escorts beforehand but they would be briefed (I do think they could improve things by allowing this to happen). So, as September rolled around, we found ourselves helping our tiny four year old onto a mini bus with a car seat. She had a lovely woman sitting next to her whose job it was to look after her on the way. Off she went. We cried, lots.
When she returned home she looked a little bewildered but largely happy. We’d done it; plaster ripped off and our daughter using school transport. About a week in, I had a call from our local authority to say her transport was being changed to a taxi. I pushed back on this saying we did not want more change.
Luckily they refused to budge and a taxi was sent for her.
I did not realise how enormous the part this very team would play in our lives for the years to come would be. That was five years ago and we still have that same taxi team. They are incredible; I feel so lucky we were assigned to that route.
I had always imagined that a school transport escort would be there in a reactive role, not a proactive one. By this I mean that I thought they’d maybe reassure an upset child, calm a shouting one and manage any medical issues such as seizures. Ours does all this of course.
I could not have imagined however that they would read stories, set up an activity centre for her in front of her seat with specially selected sensory toys, consistently use (and teach her) Makaton, attend specific training with her epilepsy nurse, learn the name of every single one of her care team, her sibling, two different grandmas and both of our cats, seek out a random song she is obsessed with on YouTube to help her settle - the list goes on.
Two new transport escorts have since joined and they do the same (although I’m not sure they have learnt the cats names yet). It’s a full on job. The drivers themselves are incredible. Calm, warm and concerned (and excellent drivers of course, in often very challenging circumstances). This is no ordinary driving job, it’s very specialised and it takes highly skilled people to deliver this service.
They also know all the names.
Towards the end of last summer the local authority casually informed me they’d be changing our school transport in September. I explained (strongly) that this decision had to be reversed. Thankfully they listened and reinstated our transport team.
I believe there is a real lack of awareness and understanding of the role that school transport teams play. They start and end the school day. That’s a big deal for any child, but for a disabled child it’s huge. Transitions can be extremely challenging; these teams are experts in this. They read the situation, adapt to make things as smooth as possible and leave anxious parents and carers feeling a little calmer, while getting the children safely to and from school.
Unlike more well-known key worker roles such as teaching staff and nurses, these teams rarely get the praise and recognition they so richly deserve. Thank you, transport teams, so much.