Train operator under fire - timetable changes forcing Sleaford school children to cut short lessons

A train operator is being accused of hampering Sleaford students’ chances of catching up on lost learning after lockdown by altering its timetables.

East Midlands Railway bosses are under fire for summer timetable changes which force school children to miss lessons.

East Midlands Railway has adjusted its summer season train times from Lincoln to Sleaford and back, affecting students that rely on the service to get to and from the town’s secondary schools.

It means the service to Sleaford that left Metheringham at 8.12am on school days is 22 mins later, now leaving at 8.34am and not getting into town until 8.52am, making students late for lessons. The return journey used to depart Sleaford at 4.14pm but is 21 minutes earlier in the afternoon and now leaves at 3.53pm, meaning pupils would have to leave lessons early to get home.

A year seven pupil at Carre’s, George Plummer, this week wrote on behalf of himself and his friends to EMR managers appealing to them to reconsider their thinking, as the train company is forcing them to shorten their school day or use less sustainable forms of transport, travelling to and from school by car, adding to congestion and pollution.

However, East Midlands Railways is refusing to budge on the matter, accepting that some passengers will lose out.

George said: “With the new timings we will not be able to get to school on time for our first lesson, thereby missing out on some parts of the curriculum.

“This train is never empty, so changing the times will inconvenience many people. Is it possible to rethink the change in times so my friends and I can continue using your service to get to school in the morning?”

Nick Law, Executive Headteacher of the Robert Carre Trust, which runs both Carre’s Grammar School and Kesteven and Sleaford High School, has spoken out in support of the students unhappy about the situation.

He commented: “Not only does it now mean that students will arrive at school after the published time and miss out on curriculum time, the students from Carre’s will also have to leave school before the end of the school day in order to catch the 3.53pm train, missing more curriculum time.”

In an email to rail company bosses, Mr Law said: “I am sure that you are aware that young people have missed a lot of their education due to the pandemic and that the Government is exhorting schools to do all that they can to help them catch up in all aspects that they have missed; the changes to the timetable, whilst maybe having some commercial value to you, do not consider the paying customers and the wider issues, as eloquently put by one of my students.

“Could I respectfully ask that you reconsider the timetables and refer to those that previously allowed our students to have full access to their education.”

A spokesperson for the rail operator said: “We’ve tried to design our new May 2021 timetable around the best possible balance of frequency and journey times on the Intercity route, improved connectivity on our Regional routes and connections with other operator services, being as sensitive as possible to maintaining or enhancing the majority of journey opportunities afforded today. This is a somewhat complex blend of components across a vast geography where passenger and freight services interact with each other and make use of the available infrastructure and the limits they can impose on our services. This is the case all over the vast network we operate.

“Unfortunately, the new timetable will mean that for some customers, some journey opportunities do not exist in the same way that they did before as trains are retimed. In this instance, swapping back to the previous time is, unfortunately, not something we are able to do.”

County councillor for Metheringham Rob Kendrick said he will take it up with council colleagues who deal with the railways and would raise it at the next full council meeting.

He said: “I am concerned about it as it affects a number of people in my council division. It is not convenient for people trying to get to school or work in Sleaford.

“People use that service for commuting to work in Sleaford and it would be difficult to get to work on time unless they took the earlier train at 7.31am.”

He did not expect any changes could be made before the autumn.Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Dr Caroline Johnson has also been approached to comment on the issue.