The thorny issue of home to school transport – the DfEs words on the subject

Every so often I get a bee in my bonnet over LAs not being particularly transparent through to being downright obscure. Transport is one such issue, and since there is a lot of talk about cutting home-school transport for children with SEND, I thought I’d make a blog post on this subject.

A particular LA had been publishing not-quite-right information on this subject and ignored my emails/calls to make amendments, so I took to the DfE. I’m not going to name the LA as they have just about upped transparency to the level of just about there. What is history, in this case, is history. So, what I did on this occasion was to email the DfE with quotes and links to ‘Local Policy’, to demonstrate how economical this LA was being with the truth of the law. The DfEs response is copied below, with references to the LA removed. I hope that it is useful for anyone passing by this blog.

Additionally, there is case law on this subject stating that a child must arrive at school in a fit condition to learn. More about transport can be found at http://www.ipsea.org.uk/what-you-need-to-know/home-to-school-college-transport

Please note, transport for post-compulsory education is different. You might be expected to pay a contribution depending on personal/specific circumstances. I would suggest taking advice from somewhere like IPSEA (link above) or a SEND specialist solicitor. I do not advocate for any specific law firm, but here is a useful post-16 fact sheet.

Dear [my name]

Thank you for your email dated 20 September regarding [LA name] Council’s Home to School Transport guidance. Local Authorities (LAs) must provide free school transport for children of school age in the circumstances set out below:-

·  Where a child is attending the nearest suitable school and this is: beyond 2 miles (if below the age of 8); or beyond 3 miles (age 8 or over);

·  For all children who are unable to walk to school because of SEN, disability or mobility problems; and

·  For all children who cannot reasonably be expected to walk because the nature of the route is deemed unsafe to walk.

There are additional rights to free home to school transport for children whose parents are in receipt of the maximum Working Tax Credit or are entitled to Free School Meals. For these children local authorities must also provide free transport where the nearest suitable school is:

·  Beyond 2 miles (if over age 8, but below age 11); or

·  Beyond 2 miles but less than 6 miles (age 11 or over) and there are not more than three suitable nearer schools); or

·  Beyond 2 miles but under 15 miles (age 11 or over) where attending the nearest suitable school on the grounds of religion or belief.

‘Suitable’ in this context does not mean the type of school, but rather that it provides education appropriate to the age and, where relevant, any special education needs that a child may have. LAs also have a discretionary power to provide free or assisted transport if they believe it is necessary and local funding is available.

As stated above, some children with SEN and/or a disability may be unable to walk even a relatively short distance to school. Similarly, children with a mobility problem caused by a temporary medical condition (such as a broken leg) may be unable to walk to school. Where such children attend a qualifying school which is within ‘statutory walking distance’, and there is no suitable school nearer to their home, they are classed as ‘eligible children’. This means that LAs must make suitable travel arrangements for children with SEN, a disability, or mobility problem, if their SEN etc, means they could not reasonably be expected to walk to school (or other place where they might be receiving education under section 19(1) of the Education Act 1996). Unless transport needs are specified in a statement of SEN, the LA only has to provide free transport if the circumstances meet the criteria specified in the LA’s own policy relating to transport for children with SEN.

The government has recently published revised guidance which makes this clear. The guidance can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/home-to-school-travel-and-transport-guidance

Department officials will be in touch with [LA name] Council shortly to ensure they are fully aware of their specific duties regarding home to school transport and the statutory guidance.

You mentioned in your email that you had some personal experience with the LA’s arrangements. Without knowing the details, I cannot offer you any specific guidance; however, LAs should have an appeals procedure in place. If, having exhausted the appeals process you are still not happy with the decision reached, or you feel that the LA has acted unreasonably, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman via http://www.lgo.org.uk/

Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2014/[XXXX]. If you need to respond to us, please visit: www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.

Yours sincerely,

Angela McNulty School Organisation and Admissions Division Angela.MCNULTY@education.gsi.gov.uk www.gov.uk/dfe

Edit: I thought it may also be useful to add – education & transport to the nearest suitable school is at the LAs expense, meaning that they cannot make a claim on any DLA award.

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