My local authority, like all others, is trying to see where they can save money. They decided to hire a consultancy company to see where these savings can be made and the company duly suggested that a large wodge of money can be saved if children with SEND get collected by pick up points. Schools would be used to ‘sell’ the idea to parents as being a good thing.
From what I can deduce, children will be red pins in a map and schools would be blues ones. The algorithm would then plot routes whereby children are collected and dropped at their appropriate school, this may involve picking up children who attend other schools along the way. On the surface, it all sounds quite sensible. Well, it would be if we were talking about a small bus and run-of-the-mill children. Only we are not, we are talking about children with additional needs and they frequently come with different requirements for transport.
The consultants mentioned the law, but appeared not to understand it. That, or they ignored it. The consultants also worked in other LAs, just like ours, apparently. They decided that a big problem is additional children arriving in the county requiring expensive, long-distance placements. Isn’t that just fine and dandy? Funny that they were totally silent on the rising exclusions causing strains on the coffers. Our LA now ranks as one of the worst for exclusions, so much so that government have £5m into city exclusions – to be managed by a consortium of educationalists including (drum roll), two of the worst offenders… You really can’t make this stuff up.
Anyway, I saw no mention of sorting children by age, (dis)ability or even gender. And so, it all starts to unravel. A local Facebook forum-cum-charity issued a template letter for parents to use, outlining legal duty. The call to arms was for the letter to be sent to Children’s Services, local councillors and MPs. It went as follows:
Dear [Sir or Madam],
I am writing to express concern that the local authority’s proposed changes to home-school transport for pupils with SEND may be in breach of their statutory duties.
The duty to provide transport is contained in the Education Act 1996 at 508B:
- A local authority in England must make in the case of an eligible child in the authority’s area to whom subsection (2) applies such travel arrangements as they consider necessary in order to secure that suitable home to school travel arrangements for the purpose of facilitating the child’s attendance at the relevant educational establishment in relation to him, are made and provided free of charge in relation to the child.
An eligible child for the purposes of this section includes:
- Some groups of children who attend schools within statutory walking distance, including those with SEND which mean that they cannot reasonably be expected to walk to their school, and no suitable arrangements have been made by the LA to enable them to attend a nearer school;
- Children who, even though they live within walking distance, cannot reasonably be expected to walk to their nearest suitable school because of the nature of the routes they could reasonably be expected to take;
- Children under the ‘low income’ provisions if s/he is entitled to free school lunches, or if his parents or carers receive working tax credit at the maximum rate.
In addition to this, the Home to School Travel and Transport Guidance (paras 34 and 35) defines suitable travel arrangements. In particular:
- They must enable an eligible child to reach school without such stress, strain or difficulty that they would be prevented from benefiting from the education provided (also see, R v Hereford and Worcester CC, ex parte p (1992))
- They must enable the child to travel in reasonable safety and comfort although this does not necessarily mean a door-to-door service.
While a local authority can use pick-up points, it must also consider the effects this will have on each and every child and their parent/s. The parent/s themselves may be disabled, or they may not be able to make the pick-up point due to the needs of other children in the family or work commitments.
Any local authority who develops a transport policy which is contrary to its Statutory Duties runs the risk of being held to account via Judicial Review. It is hoped that the local authority does not make this necessary.
The letter must have had some impact because it was taken off the County Council Committee’s agenda and sent back to Children’s Services.
Sadly, the story does not stop there. A handful of parents then heard that the local Parent Carer forum ‘jumped on’ this letter with instructions that their reps were not allowed to sign and send it as it was a ‘conflict of interest’. I was absolutely stunned. How does requesting that the LA looks closely at their duties create a conflict of interest to the parents they purport to represent? Apparently, it is because the PCF, so I was told, works ‘with’ the LA rather than ‘against’.
Now, I do not go much on my MP and he does not usually respond when I email (not that I have emailed many times), but this time he did. He contacted Nick Gibb at the DfE and here is Nick’s response. You might like to compare it to the template letter and play spot the difference (sorry about the clarity).
Sorry, PCF. The conflict is with yourselves and the parents you say you are representing, because clearly, you are not working in their best interests here. I have since heard that they sacked a rep for sending the template letter…..