A girl at a London school is planning a four-and-a-half-hour journey to make her maths A-level exam on Tuesday as the rail strike is set to cause severe travel disruption.

Other pupils have had to book hotels or stay with friends as the country braces for the first day of the walkout – the worst train strike for three decades.

The travel headache described by the headteacher of the City of London School for Girls is just one example of the disruption facing millions of people this week.

Rail strikes – latest updates

Jenny Brown said the “double-whammy” of a rail and London Tube strike on Tuesday was especially problematic for the central London school, where the vast majority use public transport.

“We’ve had to do a lot of thinking about how we look after those pupils, contingency arrangements. Some – where possible – are staying with local friends,” she said.

“And for those who have long journeys it’s required a lot of careful thought. A few have booked Travelodges, some are staying with local friends.

“I’ve just heard from one pupil who’s going to take four and a half hours for her journey, to make sure she gets there for her maths exam in the afternoon.”

About 40,000 workers are striking over pay, jobs and conditions but the transport secretary has called it “totally wrong” and said rail workers are already paid fairly.

The strikes are set to add to the stress for exam pupils across the country – and is another unexpected hurdle after years of disrupted learning during the COVID pandemic.

“It would have been absolutely wonderful if some thought had been given in advance to try to protect those [pupils] and avoid hitting young people who have a pretty hard time of it,” said Mrs Brown.

There is some leeway to delay the start of the exam but the headteacher said some pupils will inevitably be delayed despite their best efforts.

She told Sky News: “I imagine like so many schools across the country, we will be putting exceptional circumstances requests in to the exam boards for those who, through no fault of their own, just can’t quite get into the school for the start of the exam.”

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‘Don’t hold the public to ransom’ – travellers react

Millions of staff are also making alternative travel plans, deciding to work from home, or take the day off ahead of the strikes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

People at London’s Euston Station appeared to have mixed views on the walkout.

“As a union member myself, I always support unions,” one woman told Sky News.

“It disrupts my travel but, you know what, if they feel they need to strike that’s their business and I support them.”

“They have to strike, they’re worthy causes,” said another traveller. “It is an inconvenience but these guys have thought it through.”

But one man admitted he was facing a travel “nightmare” and might have to use a hire bike as London’s rail and Tube network grinds to a halt.

“I think we all support people doing their job, we all support people getting more money,” he said. “The current cost of living, we know that we need to get paid, but at the same time don’t hold the public to ransom.”