HOPES have been raised that the future of numerous bus services for pupils will be secured in the coming days as negotiations between schools, transport firms and a council continue.

It is believed schools in Darlington, including Hummersknott, Carmel and Hurworth, which have for more than a decade struck joint home to school transport deals, could go their separate ways to ensure the costs of travel for pupils is kept to a minimum.

The talks have been complicated after schools received vastly different tenders from bus operators, as buses need to be upgraded this year due to Disability Discrimination Act stipulations and the schools have significant differences in the number of pupils that qualify for statutory travel assistance.

One senior school source said: “There were a raft of options on the table before the latest meeting, but there’s now another raft of options. It is still all up in the air.”

In November school and council leaders agreed a deal to maintain several school bus services after a move to suddenly withdraw them drew fury from parents and sparked a political storm.

At the time it was suggested parents should consider car sharing, allowing their children to walk or cycle to school or buying an Arriva bus pass.

Parents described the decision to withdraw the services as “an absolute joke” and said they had no idea how their children would get to school without the buses.

Amid concerns that the bus firms’ increasing fees to £6 per day would not be affordable for the majority of families, last night Darlington MP Peter Gibson said he was optimistic a solution to the issue would be clarified next week.

He said: “Having spoken with both the local authority and some of the schools affected, I am delighted that the concerned parties are continuing to communicate with each other to solve this problem for the children and families of Darlington.”

Hurworth School headteacher Dean Judson added: “Discussions are continuing and hopefully we will find a solution that’s satisfactory for all parties.”

Amid calls for Darlington Borough Council to consider using the £1.8m of spare discretionary funds it will set aside in this year’s budget, its children and young people’s services portfolio holder Councillor Paul Crudass said providing different levels of support to different schools would create difficulties.

Cllr Crudass’ predecessor, Labour councillor Cyndi Hughes said: “Somebody has to take a leadership role to broker an agreement because it is the families that are suffering in terms of getting their children to school. If there is not any stability it is going to be really stressful for families.”