When local authority funding was removed from St Joan of Arc Catholic School in Rickmansworth more than 350 pupils were left without transport to their school.
The funding was removed by Hertfordshire County Council in 2012 as local authorities up and down the country were trying to find millions of pounds in efficiency savings.
However, the decision to remove funding from St Joan of Arc school led parents facing annual transport costs running into the hundreds of pounds each year.
The response from parents, according to Headmaster Peter Sweeney, was “a mixture of frustration and exasperation.
“Like many Catholic schools we have an extremely wide catchment area and the removal of funding caused some parents to consider whether sending their child to our school was still financially viable.”
St Joan of Arc school initially received advice from the Diocese of Westminster about how to set up their own transport system for the school.
For Mr Sweeney the key advice he received from the Diocese was to have a clear objective on what they were looking for in a private provider. For St Joan of Arc school, the priority was flexible payment.
“For us, we wanted to make the payment system as flexible as possible for parents so that they could pay monthly, weekly or daily if necessary.
“There are many families at our school who don’t have the funds to be able to pay transport fees on a term by term basis, so it was essential that the option was there to pay in smaller instalments.
“We were also clear from the outset that the cost of supplying this transport had to be at the providers own risk as we were not in a position to take the financial hit if something went wrong.”
After receiving tenders from four providers St Joan of Arc school decided to go with a local bus company because of their local knowledge and ability to adopt previous LA provided routes. Furthermore, the company specialised in school transport.
“Having a company that specialised in school transport made our lives so much easier. It also meant that they had an online payment system in place for parents.
“There were some initial difficulties in the first year surrounding the changes to the bus timetable and locations of drop-off stops, but after successful consultations with parents, these issues were resolved.
“Similarly there were teething issues with the online payment system, however working closely with the provider we were able to sort them quickly.
“That’s the crux of it really, if you can build a strong and lasting relationship with your transport provider, not only can issues be resolved quickly but the long-term results are desirable as well. For example we get preferential rates when using the same company to organise coaches for school trips.
“However, the main thing I would recommend to any school who finds itself in this position is to have a clear idea about what they want. If you start putting your transport out for tender without knowing exactly what you need from it then it could lead to problems further down the line.
“We were clear from the outset on what we needed, and because of that our transport system continues to run smoothly to this day.”