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West coast pupils face 10 hour day due to school bus changes

Plockton school bus
Plockton pupils say they're exhausted by 10 hour school day. Pictured L-R are pupil James Brown, local parent Lynda Beveridge, and pupil Mia Quigley. Picture by SANDY McCOOK 15th December '21

Pupils at Plockton High School say they’re left exhausted by a school bus journey taking up to 1hr 45 minutes.

The pupils and their parents are appealing to Highland Council to revise the route or let them catch the train.

Pupils living in Achintraid used to catch a minibus down Duncraig Road, before getting on the larger bus at Lochcarron then onwards to Plockton High School.

However, the narrow, single track road is not suitable for buses. Stagecoach took over the council contract in April 2021, and revised the route. But local families say this adds 58 miles a week to the journey.

They were willing to bear with it, says local Mum Lynda Beveridge, until they were asked to catch the bus even earlier.

“At the end of October, families in Achintraid got a note home to say the route was being tweaked again to pick up people in Achmore,” says Mrs Beveridge. “That meant having to get on the bus another 15 minutes earlier. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

‘Obscene’ journey time

At that point, the pupils and parents decided something had to be done. Mrs Beveridge and another local parent, Caroline Brown, issued a survey to families in the area. More than 89% of people returning the survey said they were unhappy or very unhappy with the current school bus.

Lynda Beveridge is pushing for a better solution to the school bus service. Picture by SANDY McCOOK

The parent council took up the case, and have now had several meetings with Highland Council and Hitrans. Mrs Beveridge stresses that the meetings are “solution focused” and parents understand the challenges.

However, they are determined to secure a change. “Pupils living the furthest away face a 10-hour day, which is obscene,” says Mrs Beveridge.

“They’re getting picked up at 7am and aren’t home until well after 5pm. You can’t expect pupils to continue to give it their all at school when they’re travelling three hours a day.”

No time for extra-curriculars

Mrs Beveridge is mother to two teenagers, Arlo and Josie. “They’re exhausted and not firing on all cylinders,” she says. “My daughter plays musical instruments. She’s not home until after 5pm and then we’re asking her to do extra-curriculars.

“Lots of kids around here play shinty, badminton, football – our son plays football – and it’s too much to manage when they’re home so late.”

Other pupils the P&J spoke to had the same problems.

Mia Quigley, an S4 pupils from Lochcarron, takes part in rugby, sailing, drama and maths. “It affects me a lot,” she says. “It’s difficult to keep up with all the work when I’m wasting so much time on the bus.”

For Kishorn pupil James Brown, the journey is even longer. James gets up at 6.30am to catch the bus at 7.15. He gets home at 5.10pm unless he stays on to play badminton, which gets him in at 7pm. James often ends up late in bed by the time he’s had dinner and done his homework.

“I do get pretty tired at school,” he says.

Plockton High School. Picture by SANDY McCOOK 24th July ’18

Why can’t we get the train?

Both pupils say the parent council is doing a good job advocating for them. Meetings with the council and Hitrans have been positive, says Mrs Beveridge, and everyone is working hard to find an answer.

One potential solution is to revert to using minibuses, which can take a more direct route. However, the preferred option is fast becoming “the elephant in the room.”

“The elephant in the room is the Strathcarron to Plockton train,” she says. “It’s only a 30 minute journey and stops right outside the school. Pupils could get a feeder minibus to catch it. Why we can’t use that train… is ridiculous.”

Mrs Beveridge says this option was floated, but they were told this would require a case study lasting two or three years. Part of the challenge lies in the current timetable, which would need to be altered to pick up the Plockton school kids.

However, the timescale is frustrating for local families. As James puts it: “I’ll have left school by then.”

Free bus travel may help

Kishorn councillor Alexander MacInnes says it’s an issue he completely understands. “My own kids did the Plockton school run, and it’s always been a challenge,” he says.

“The revised route can make a big difference to the journey time, especially in winter with the snow. The day just gets longer and longer.”

Councillor Alexander MacInnes is working alongside parents to find a solution. Picture: Andrew Smith

Mr MacInnes says the meetings so far have been well attended and constructive. The council is looking at a range of options for the Plockton school bus. These include smaller minibuses, the train, and piggy-backing on a commercial service from Kyle to Inverness.

There is a ray of hope in the Scottish Government’s new funding commitments, which includes free bus travel for young people aged five to 21. The full details have yet to be announced but Mr MacInnes hopes it will help fund a better service.

“Everyone is collaborating and recognising the challenges, including the parents,” says Mr MacInnes. “We all know there’s no quick solution. But at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to these children and their health and welfare.”

A spokesperson for Stagecoach said the service is provided according to specifications set by Highland Council. A council spokesperson said:

“We have met and discussed the issue with partners and parent council representatives. Further discussions are expected to take place in January in the hope of finding a mutually agreeable situation.

“We have looked into the possibility of a rail solution. However, this is not possible in the short to medium term.”

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