UK charity secures government review of school transport for disabled children

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Contact, the UK charity for families with disabled children, has secured a major win for its School Run Crisis campaign. The Secretary of State for Education now plans to review statutory guidance to make sure all local authorities are providing school transport for eligible children with special educational needs (SEN).

The decision follows Contact’s School Transport Inquiry, which found that shrinking school transport budgets and confused policies are pushing many UK families with disabled children to the brink.

Contact’s Inquiry included a survey of more than 2,500 parent carers. It found that:

  • Almost half said that school travel arrangements for their disabled child meant that they can’t work or they’ve had to reduce their working hours.
  • Almost a quarter said their child’s journey to school is stressful, which makes it harder for their child to learn.
  • Parents also highlighted the poor quality and suitability of some local authority school transport services. Many expressed concern about vehicle safety as well as the training and communication of staff.

Contact also investigated 59 local authority transport policies for children with additional needs in England. It found that more than half (30) included unlawful blanket statements or other restrictive criteria. Many incorrectly maintained that children needed Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans to be eligible for school transport.

In response to Contact’s findings a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said:

We are investing £222 m over four years to help local authorities improve special educational needs and disability (SEND) services and local authorities must provide school transport for all eligible children with SEND. In light of the findings by Contact, the department will review the statutory guidance for local authorities to ensure it is clear.

Amanda Batten, Chief Executive of Contact, said:

Our survey reveals that for disabled children and their families, school transport, whatever aspect you look at, is in crisis. It’s an integral part of a child’s education but if a child can’t get to school, or has a stressful experience getting there, they aren’t able to learn or take part in the school day like other children. Parents tell us that some local authorities are reducing or changing school transport services often with little notice.

Some are offering unsuitable transport, charging for it, or removing it altogether. The system is broken. We know councils are having to make difficult decisions due to budget cuts, but a small change to school transport for disabled children can have far reaching and devastating consequences for families who already face significant challenges in their daily lives.

We are delighted that the Department for Education has listened to families’ concerns. The announcement to review school transport statutory guidance 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 the government and families when the statutory guidance is reviewed to make sure disabled children get the school transport they need.

Contact provides information for parents with disabled children about school transport and their rights and entitlements. It also publishes advice for local parent carer groups and forums on how to challenge local school transport consultations. You can ring its helpline on 0808 808 3555, Monday-Friday, 9.30 am-5.00 pm.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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