‘Student bubbles could burst on school buses’, warns Margate county councillor

Cllr Barry Lewis said people are discouraged from reporting incidents

By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

Student bubbles could “burst” on the first day that all children return to school unless adequate transport plans are put in place, a councillor has warned.

Thanet county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) has voiced concerns about pupils “rushing” onto school buses without proper supervision. He fears this will lead to students mixing with peers outside of their class or year-group “bubble”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Con) has said it remains a “national priority” to get every youngster back to school next month. Kent County Council (KCC) says it awaits “detailed guidance” around school transport provision.

So far, the local education authority says that pupils aged over 11 will have to wear a face covering unless they have an exemption. No standing will be allowed on school buses and strict social distancing rules will be imposed.

But, Cllr Lewis, who is a school governor at Drapers Mills Primary Academy in Margate, said: “The problem I can see is that all the children rush to get on the same bus and the student bubble will burst.”

The Margate councillor’s comments came during a KCC scrutiny committee meeting where several councillors were told that emergency plans are being worked on to protect Kent schools from future coronavirus flare-ups.

KCC’s public health director, Andrew Scott-Clark, said that schools remain a “real worry” for the county council and described them as a “vulnerable setting” for potential future outbreaks – alongside care homes and prisons.

But, he said there have only been a small number of cases at Kent schools. In June, a Reception pupil tested positive for Covid at Dartford’s Sutton-at-Hone Church of England Primary School in Church Road, which saw a group of young children and staff forced to self-isolate.

Another child was diagnosed with coronavirus at St Francis Catholic Primary School in Maidstone during the same month. One of the class “bubbles” and some staff were told to self-isolate. The rest of the school remained open in line with public health guidance.

Mr Scott-Clark said: “Schools have done a fantastic job in managing bubbles and clusters of children, which has enabled them to manage this effectively.”

On Saturday, KCC’s highways team said it was waiting for clear advice from Whitehall bosses over school transport arrangements as Kent parents and councillors continue to seek clarity ahead of September’s planned reopening.

Stagecoach is one of the main bus operators working in the county and serves most secondary schools in East Kent, spanning from Ashford to Folkestone, but the service has been operating at one-third of its usual bus capacity.

KCC’s education cabinet member, Cllr Richard Long (Con) has said that face coverings will be recommended for younger children to wear – those aged under 11 – if they are “happy” to do so.

He also encouraged parents to purchase a Kent Travel saver card if eligible, saving students up to 50% on bus journey costs.

Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport Michael Payne said: “We know parents need certainty on transport arrangements for schools returning in September and as soon as government gives us that detailed guidance, we will advise on how it will work.

“You can be assured that there will be capacity on our hired transport and local buses to take your child to school safely.

“Behind the scenes we have been working with bus operators to ensure that our services are provided in accordance with the guidance, ensuring there will be enough room whether you take a taxi, bus or coach to school.

“If we need to hire more vehicles to keep people safe, we will do so.

“There are also plans being worked on to make a number of local bus services that operate on school days, which would normally carry children using a Kent Travel Saver Card, ‘school only’ buses, thereby restricting access.

“We have asked our local bus operators to make sure, as part of social distancing, that there is no standing on buses and face coverings for those over 11 and without an exemption are required.

“On these local buses, our operators have been and continue to work to government guidance, so there is social distancing on buses alongside a range of other measures.

“If you view operator websites, many have videos which show you the cleaning regime they do to make travel as safe as possible.”

Kent Travel Saver Card

KCC Cabinet Member for Education and Skills Richard Long added: “For those who normally purchase a Kent Travel Saver Card, if you don’t feel happy to purchase one now, we have committed to provide a pro-rata cost pass, once government guidance on social distancing changes fully.

“Although August 9 is the deadline for Kent Travel Saver Card, to guarantee it for first day of term, be assured if you apply after this date, we will endeavour to get a pass out to you as soon as we can.

“Since the coronavirus pandemic started, we have had a transport protocol in place for operators who provide our bespoke hired transport, which clearly sets out the safety measures they need to take to keep your child safe.

“For the hired transport we ask parents to follow the same as local buses – face covering for those over 11 and without exemption.

“We recommend it for younger children, if its ok for them to wear them and they are happy to do so.”


  1. So it’s masks on buses, and in supermarkets, but you are safe in schools, restaurants and pubs. Yes, makes lots of sense.

    Now Boris tells us to “eat out to help out”

    Yet in reality, to get your discount to eat OUT, you can only eat IN.

    • It will never be totally safe, but fortunately children rarely suffer badly when infected with Covid 19.

      I like a pint and nice meal as much as anyone, but will gladly stop that again in order to get kids back in school. Missing any more education could effect their whole lives.

      • And you have all the data to back this up do you. My daughter had Covid, however she was not on any stats anywhere, we were told to just isolate, we also know other children that were also in the same situation

        • My point is NOT that they don’t catch it, just that it is rarely serious. Judging by the fact that she’s not on the stats, I’m assuming that your daughter didn’t need any hospital treatment.

          • They may not show signs of having covid-19 or asymptomatic but that doesn’t stop them passing it about and bringing it home. It is a deadly situation to be in and a lot of teachers are rightfully frightened. They can keep them socially distancing in classes but as soon as they go outside they are in their big groups forgetting all about the seriousness of it. I expect the 2nd spike will come a while after the kids go back to school.

      • I have visited McDonald’s (Margate), Wetherspoons (Ramsgate), and the Promenade in Margate, The Promenade were the only business that bothered to take my details for the track & trace. This system like most others has failed from day one.

        It also relies upon anyone unfortunate to catch the virus, to actually contact the venue to let them know, so that they can make contact to others.

        The system has further flaws; anyone can contact a pub or restaurant, and say I now have Covid 19, I was in your business last Thursday, and again on Saturday. Therefore, forcing that business to temporarily close.

  2. Those sensible enough to read more than just the government statements will know that the UK approach to school isn’t sensible. The infection rate in plus 10 year olds is close to adults and in teenagers the same (or very similar).

    Face masks are only “dangerous” for under 2s.

    Secondary school masks should be compulsory. If a secondary school pupil cannot understand or deal with a mask – the education system has already failed them. Obviously some with health issues can be excused (arguably some of the vulnerable children should be taught in their own bubbles or remotely whilst this is going on.) that might not be perfect but I’m sure vulnerable children would rather live and miss out on some interaction for a while than risk their lives.

    Even primary age should be wearing masks.

    Especially in corridors.

    A clueless sleepy government continues with sound bites about children’s future and the usual rhetoric that the masses eat up but this is more serious than lying about EU funding.

    People need to challenge the current school plans. Bubbles of so many and mixing on buses and sports will be disastrous as we move into the winter.

    We need to be far more cautious.

    Use of face masks (certainly in shared areas)
    Smaller classes
    Smaller bubbles.
    More testing in schools,
    Universal advice not leaving it to individual schools.

    Fluffy advice from government to then blame others for the interpretation is not on.

    Lead properly and have proper plans that schools can follow properly.

    Schools don’t set their own curriculum and don’t set their own exams – the Covid plan should be a nation thing too.

  3. Just use your common sense, I know it’s not as common as we like to think it is. Wear a mask on all buses that includes school buses. I have a friend who works in sexual health and she tells me they are busier than normal with patients with STIs so they have not been social distancing. Flu numbers are down colds numbers are down because most sensible people are being very cautious.

    • This comes from the Local Democracy Reporting service, which serves all the local papers in this area, and is KCC coverage.

    • Box, don’t start again. You are entitled to your opinion, wether others like it or not, but if you have evidence of any deceit, then take it to the relevant authorities. It’s not fair to continually comment on this site about Barry.

      It has got really tiresome with your comments about Sleepy Barry, and the snowflake business. Most likely a criminal offence.

      Have you met Barry? (I haven’t), but there are things he says that I don’t agree with, but it doesn’t require your constant insults.

    • What evidence do you have to back up your statement that Barry Lewis is a “Proven liar”?

  4. Just get back to school and back to work people. Teachers if you don’t want to go to work then don’t ask for your salaries you can not holiday on tax payers money for ever.

    • Teachers have not been holidaying on tax payers money. Many have been going into school every day to teach the children of key workers or specifically vulnerable children.
      They are committed to going back to full schools as soon as possible. But only when safe. But when they ask for precise advice and direction from government about safety issues, there is a deafening silence , apart from the usual guff about “lazy teachers on holiday” etc.
      “Yours not to wonder why, yours but to do or die” as the old Empire saying had it, urging the troops over the top.
      I had hoped that we had moved on from “just do as you’re told” and don’t ask why.
      Maybe not.
      I am still reeling from being told by Johnson that re opening schools is a “moral issue!” Boris Johnson giving us lessons on personal morality!!??
      You couldn’t make it up!

      PS I am not, and have never been, a teacher. But, as an OAP, I am happy to join millions of others having a holiday at taxpayers expense. I haven’t noticed the country going bankrupt because of all the pensions being payed out. Possibly because most OAPs vote Tory so they enjoy a kind of exemption from Tory vindictiveness.

    • Maryp

      It’s not about holidays or teachers being lazy (although I suspect there might be the odd one or two), the issue in schools is about safety.

      Absolutely nobody knows how safe schools are/are not, it’s just a gamble on something never experienced before, but unfortunately the comments from this government, especially being advised by Dominic Cummings, can never be trusted.

  5. So this year group bubble how doesnt it work if you have 3 kids in 3 different bubbles at school , in 1 bubble at home. Meaning that the 3 bubble groups at school become 1 bubble at home. So your 3 kids are in each different bubble mixing with 60 other kids so that’s 180 different kids your kids have come in contact with, than they come home into your family bubble. So if your kids have been in contact with another 180 kids why have a bubble ? So now the family bubble has now been in contact with 180 kids plus the parents work group so this family bubble has now been in contact with over 200 people in one day ! What can possibly go wrong !!

    • It doesn’t really matter how well disciplined or not the children are: if a bus has a capacity of 70 including standing passengers, and there are 70 children needing to get to school, then social distancing just won’t happen.

    • Derek

      How is Barry Lewis responsible for student behaviour?

      It would appear that according to some, Barry Lewis is able to fix or sort all sorts of things.

      Hey Barry, if your listening, any chance of some winning lotto numbers please.

  6. The bubbles have already bursted!

    This councillor needs to visit the local beaches & he’ll see hoards of kids (secondary school age) hanging out in large groups!

    It undoes all the work that secondary schools are required to put in place. Pointless exercise.

  7. Barry is making a valid point.

    No point making it personal against him.

    The rhetoric that we just need to get back to normal doesn’t work. This is a deadly pandemic that we haven’t seen the worst of yet. We need to look at places like New Zealand and realise you have to more quicker.

    We are doing less, later.

    I guess all the “back to normal” crew haven’t lost loved ones yet. I’m sure they’ll be banging their drum loudly and differently when they do.

  8. Yes and what if you have 4 children, 2 at secondary school and two in primary. I would have 560 children mixing in one day. Never mind two of them mixing at the bus stops! The bubble is an illusion if we care to see through it. Many children are successfully studying at home with regular communication with the schools and having work posted so they are not missing out on education. They are missing out on being at risk of infection and then new prison camp style teaching environment which is bad for there mental health. They are missing out on the school commute and the other non education times spent at school. They are growing to have far better relationships with there parents and siblings as they spend more quality time with them. The are under less pressure and less stress which is far better for their immune systems. They can use social media, we can go out to open spaces like national parks and have freedom rather than stand in a hula hoop in the playground at school. At home when on break, they can relax with there toys or in the garden or with family if they like instead of being in new proposed harsh school conditions. Also they don’t get bullied at home or bad language. In our circumstances it works far better at home over this period and surely if my children’s bubbles would expose them to over 560 etc children a day, then it is less risk to others to keep mine home. Bubbles may work a little better for 1 child house holds with non working parents, that don’t use public transport, or mix with any other people. Its a joke!

    • My 2 kids are about to kill each other, after 5 months of being off school. Constant squabbling, snitching on each other. I’m losing the will to live….

      Home learning has been a complete disaster for us. They just aren’t learning in the same way as they do at school.

      Can’t wait for them to be back in school, roll on 1st Sept.

      Secondary school bubbles are completely pointless. Hoards of teens down the beach, in their droves. These bubbles bursted months ago!

  9. Cllr Barry Lewis …. What is Andrew Scott-Clarkes position on PFOA toxic residue firefighting foam ? Its hazards include reducing resistance to infection and reducing effects of vaccines.

    As I understand the Secretary of State conditions, for permission for Manston construction phase to begin, will include KCC public health sign off re PFOA remediation and containment measures in RSP construction phase plan. Since there are no such measures in RSP plan this could take some time.

    Mr Scott-Clarke will stumble upon statutory duties to report the PFOA facts to NHSS CCG Planners. And be unable to sign off for RSP (Far from shovel ready or ready to roll) to commence construction phase and unleash the promised economic miracle upon East Kent. Until NHS planning and provision is properly sorted.

    Unfortunately your Labour colleagues Constantine and SONIK concealed this issue in stroke unit judicial review And their concealment prevented a High Court determination while Manston National Planning examination was still in progress.

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