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Special Educational Needs Children Struggle With Council Transport Decisions

By Solicitor, Court of Protection

More parents are complaining about their children being denied free school transport, according to the local government ombudsman.

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Councils’ changes to transport policies without informing parents has left many confused, with children with special educational needs (SEN) put at a disadvantage, the local authority watchdog found.

In the case of SEN children there were also issues around failing to consider health and safety problems associated with a youngster's needs when deciding if they were eligible for transport.

The BBC referred to the anonymous case of a school boy with autism who struggles with loud noise, who, as a result of funding cuts, was expected to walk a mile down a partly unlit route and take a bus and train to school, after his local council stopped funding a taxi for him.

The Local Government Ombudsman said it had seen an increase in complaints and enquiries over the past two years, with 261 submitted in 2015/16, up from 160 the previous year.

In the case of SEN children there were also issues around failing to consider health and safety problems associated with a youngster's needs when deciding if they were eligible for transport.

The statutory guidance states that councils in England must provide free transport for pupils of compulsory school age (five to sixteen) who cannot walk to school because they:

  • have a special need or disability
  • live outside statutory walking distance - two miles for under-eights and three miles for eight to sixteen year olds
  • face an unsafe walking route

There is also the possibility of transport being provided to children of compulsory school age if they are entitled to free school meals and or their parents are in receipt of maximum working tax credits if a school is a particular distance away.

To find out more and to read the statutory guidance in place for local authorities, please see: Home to school travel and transport guidance

The ombudsman's report, Navigating School Transport Issues, recommends that councils should:

  • consult parents and schools on changes to individual pupils' transport arrangements
  • provide clear and accessible information on eligibility for free transport
  • consider individual pupils' transport needs "carefully and judiciously"
  • consider wider health and safety issues as well as mobility for special needs pupils

 

Liz Perry is a court of protection lawyer at Slater and Gordon UK, specialising in educational and disability rights, mental capacity law, community care and other human rights issues.

For a consultation with a human rights solicitor, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

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