Author Mark Fairlie
A survey of more than 2,500 parents by charity Contact A Family has found that more than half of all local authorities’ school transport policies in England include unlawful statements. These unlawful statements mean that parents of disabled children can’t work or have had to decrease their working hours.
As the law stands, a child with special educational needs, a disability or a mobility problem must get free school transport, regardless of the distance between the child’s home and their school.
What are councils getting wrong?
The charity, which states that ”school transport is one of the top education issues (we get) calls about”, found four major problems –
- councils wrongly decided a child is not eligible for transport,
- no suitable transport options for a child,
- lack of information on how to apply for free transport and the appeal process if the request is refused, and
- no provision for 16- and 17-year olds.
The findings uncovered that 30 out of 59 English local authorities gave parents the wrong information leading them to believe that they were not entitled to support.
It also found that one in five families either part- or fully-funded their child’s school transport, with half of those paying more than £500 a year.
Information is hard to find
When reviewing the application process for those of school age, the charity found that many policies displayed on council websites “used small text with lots of paragraphs which were extremely difficult to read and full of legislative jargon”.
School transport policies were often buried on councils’ websites, meaning it “could take between three to eight clicks to find (one)…time which most parents, let alone with disabled children, do not have.”
Where policies were found, they were out of date, used no-longer-relevant terminology (like CRB checks), and contained little or no information on driver training, the four statutory categories of eligible children, and DBS checks.
Educational, social, and emotional consequences
Speaking to the charity, Bayta Greaves from Buckingham, whose daughter is on the autism spectrum and has social and emotional difficulties, complained that when “Lili moved to a new secondary school…she needed to take the public bus and she struggled with the long journey and felt vulnerable – for example, if people talked to her.
“We applied to our local council for home-to-school transport but were refused…There was no flexibility on their part and no taking into account…how stressful she found using public transport.”
The study found that 17% of parents said that their child arrived late for school once or twice a week because of travel arrangements and 16% said their child’s journey to school lasted for more than an hour.
How did the government respond?
Replying directly to the survey, a Department of Education spokesperson told Contact A Family that “in light of the findings… the department will review the statutory guidance for local authorities to ensure it is clear”.
On the charity’s website, chief executive Amanda Batten said
“(t)his is a huge win for all of us, and we want to say a massive thank you to everyone who submitted evidence to the inquiry. We will work with you when the statutory guidance is reviewed to make sure disabled children get the school transport they need.”