In scenes of utter chaos, children with autism had to wait hours for school buses or were asked to board taxis on their own without assistants, as handing over SEN school transport from one company to another was completely sloppy.
The start of a new term at St Christopher’s in Leigh was plagued by transportation issues as Vecteo took over the provision of school transportation by Southend Council for children with special educational needs.
Vecteo, a joint venture between the Southend Borough Council and London Hire Community Services, was formed to provide transport services to the council. Previously, the service was provided by school transport 24/7.
Parents had to wait until the day before school to hear from Vecteo, with parents texting and calling by passenger assistants – responsible for helping the children and keeping them safe during the journey to school – to introduce themselves.
For protection purposes, parents desperately wanted their children to meet with drivers and assistants before school started, to educate them on the unique challenges of each child.
On Thursday September 2, the first day of school, dozens of parents found themselves stranded with their child, awaiting the arrival of a school bus. Some have been on standby for hours.
Others were told their bus was canceled at the last minute and a taxi was dispatched to their door, with no chaperone on board.
Adrian Dickinson, 50, whose autistic son attends St Christopher’s School, said: “We expected a minibus to arrive. In fact, what happened was an everyday cab to pick up my son.
“I can’t believe the person responsible for this would think it’s okay to send a taxi to pick up a child with autism with special needs. How they expected a parent to put their autistic child in a cab when they’ve never met this driver before and just say “Go on then” is just ludicrous. ”
Indignant parents say they were unable to contact Vecteo and say the board asked them to call the company.
Tillie Waterman, whose son also attends St Christopher’s School, said she was “frustrated” with the way her child was treated.
She said her autistic son remained in tears as they waited over an hour for the school bus to arrive.
“We never had a problem with the old 24/7 provider,” she said.
In a letter sent to parents following the fiasco, Vecteo referred to “major problems” with the transfer of staff from the former supplier to the company.
The letter read: “Vecteo fully realizes that this is far from ideal and that it is not the start of the new school term that we wanted. In addition, we are fully aware of the harmful effects and problems this has caused many children and their families and we are very sorry for the anxiety caused. ”
Simi Wilson, who also has a son with autism at St Christopher’s, said: “Southend council became Vecteo without consulting the parents. I didn’t know until I got a letter in the first week of August.
“The first time I heard from them was a text from a lady saying she was the passenger assistant the day before my son’s first day back.
“I don’t think anyone would leave their child to a stranger. I don’t know who she is, she could be anyone.
Cllr Laurie Burton, Southend Cabinet Member for Children and Learning, said: “We deeply regret the quality of service some children using home-to-school transport received at the start of the new school year. This is simply not acceptable, and I am sorry for any distress and upheaval it may have caused.
“By working at SEND, we know how important it is for children to have regular, reliable and punctual school transport service. We also understand how important it is for some children to be familiar with the service, with the same driver, passenger assistant and vehicle taking them to school every day, whenever possible.
“Once the issues are resolved, we’ll talk to Vecteo to find out what went wrong, why and how we can prevent it from happening again. ”