Children attending special needs schools often take council funded buses or taxis to school because they are generally not your local school distance away. Jude for example, currently attends a school which is about nine miles away. With this in mind and the fact that the taxi occupants aren’t your average, predictable bunch of children, you’d think the council would scrutinise and ensure the people supporting them on their journey to school were the best calibre of individual.
At present, Jude has an amazing taxi driver. Pete, we all think he’s fab, especially Jude. He has consistently been his driver for several years now and Jude loves his time with him. They have fantastic conversations every day and have even made up a special name for each day of the week – Tomorrow is the best one of all – Friday is Sweetie Day!
Every four years the council resubmit the contract and local taxi firms bid for the job – it’s a pretty good contract with regular taxis needed in towns all around the school to take the children to school and back home again (it isn’t one taxi per child obviously, Jude has always had a few friends on there with him) and not long ago I had to kick up a fuss because Pete was changed for a complete nightmare of a driver and escort. Thankfully, my complaint worked and Pete was returned to us!
BUT, despite our present good fortune…we have had some absolute HORRORS. There was the minibus that was so old and ropey that I could hear it (with all windows and doors shut!) coming up the hill before pulling into our road.
It kind of looked like this except it had windows in the back to simulate the appearance of an acceptable minibus.
I remember watching the driver struggling around the bend, praying this crapheap would make the very slight incline, smoke chugging out it’s rear end. This minibus was literally a modified transit van with lots of old planks and bits of metal behind the back seats. The driver was ancient and the escort struggled to step down from the front seat to help the children out of the side door, she was at least 300 years old and there was no way in hell she could have caught one of the children if they’d decided to run off. Why on earth the council ok’d their transport system I have no idea. We had so many problems with this taxi both with individual experiences and the standard of the vehicle, I’m not one to complain but this was genuinely dangerous and I felt scared the children wouldn’t even make it to school one day. The final straw was when they were returning from school and rather than pulling up to the kerb, they stopped in the middle of the road, slid the side door open and let him jump out and run to the pavement unassisted. We live on a fairly typical residential road so the chances of anything happening are minimal but even still, letting a disabled child out of a car in the middle of the road, not even holding his hand, is insane!
When Pete takes one of his many (many!) holidays,
Here he is on one of said holidays!
I do slightly dread who the taxi firm will send in his replacement. We had one guy who turned up over half an hour late every day so not only was I horribly late for work, Jude was frantic and panicked by the time he actually arrived – and he was late for school. I would call up the office and constantly get “yes, he’ll be five minutes.”
We’ve also had the replacement driver who didn’t say a word to us and didn’t even look at us as Jude got in the car. I would walk up to the car to say hello and make sure everything was ok, this man would literally open the door from inside and drive off once Jude had his seatbelt on. It does make you slightly anxious, watching your child be driven off by someone you haven’t even made eye contact with.
There’s also the escorts…wow, the escorts. On the whole, they have been lovely. And in fact, some we truly miss and Jude still asks about by name. Then there are the others. Bearing in mind these people are meant to be ESCORTING DISABLED CHILDREN, you’d think the council would ensure they are fit, polite and aware of children with disabilities and the fact they may be a bit different from the norm. A while ago, after our lovely drivers four year stint was up and the council put the job out to tender, we were given the driver I mentioned above who didn’t speak to us. Literally not a word. His escort was an absolute nightmare and took an complete disliking to Jude from day one. Yes, he was going through a very difficult and challenging time but she is hired as someone to support and help him feel safe not tell him he’s naughty and antagonise him. Jude used to try and wind her up and every single day she’d take the bait and react, so in a true Jude-inspired vicious circle this made matters worse. Anyway, she won’t look at me now whenever I see her. I think she despises our family which is fine; each to their own, I just don’t see how you can take on a job like this and expect perfect passengers considering the nature of the setting they are heading to.
Anyway, I could talk about Jude’s transport for hours. I have so many stories to share! But my point is, rather than hiring the cheapest option perhaps the council should employ better trained, experienced and suitable escorts and not give the taxi contract to the least expensive cab firm. As it happens, we have fallen on our feet with Jude’s driver (hi Pete if you’re reading this!) but it’s very much a lottery when it comes to council funded school transport.