School transport for disabled children in England: top 5 questions answered

6 mins read

Friday 11 August 2023

Tags: facebook q&a, school transport

The new school term is just around the corner, yet many parent carers are still facing major hurdles to secure transport arrangements for their disabled child.

School transport is a big concern for our families around this time of year, so our education team recently hosted a Q&A session to assist parent carers in England with any questions or issues they may be having.

If you missed it, the Q&A is still available to read in our Facebook group – but to help, we’ve also rounded up the top 5 questions asked during the session below.

We also recommend taking a look at our webpage about school transport in England and home-to-school factsheet, as well as at our online advice about challenging school transport policies and information about transport for young people over 16.

1. The LA says my son isn’t eligible for free transport because he isn’t attending his nearest mainstream school and the named school in his EHC plan was a parental preference. Is this correct?

    If the EHC plan names your preferred school with no conditions and it is the only school named, then it automatically counts as the closest suitable for transport purposes. You would only be liable for travel costs only if the EHC explicitly states in section I that there is a closer suitable school.

    If the local authority (LA) considered that there was a closer school that could meet your child’s needs, they should have discussed this with you and been clear about the transport implication. For example, they could have named your chosen school as parental preference but stated in your son’s EHC plan that there is a closer suitable school, and so that you would be responsible for school transport.

    I suggest you take a look at section I of your son’s EHC plan to check the wording used by the LA. If section I is in their favour, you may be able to appeal to tribunal to get it changed – for example, by having your preference named as the only school in the EHC plan.

    2. My son often has meltdowns in the morning, but he needs to be calm before boarding the bus as it’s a long journey. Should the driver have to wait for my son, especially if there are no other children on the bus?

    As your son is the only child in the vehicle, it would be considered a reasonable adjustment for the driver and escort to wait for him until he is calm. If they have other responsibilities and are therefore strained with time, another reasonable adjustment that could be made is hiring adults that are happy to wait as long as necessary to ensure the child is calm. Paragraph 80 on page 28 of the government’s statutory Travel to School Guidance outlines the need for arrangements to be safe and stress-free.

    The guidance was also recently updated to include a specific section about managing behaviour related to a child’s special educational need or disability. This new section, on page 34, acknowledges that: “Some children may find change distressing and benefit from having consistency in their travel arrangements wherever possible. Where a change to travel arrangements is planned, time to get used to the idea of a new route or vehicle, or an opportunity to meet a new driver or passenger assistant, may be helpful.”

    3. Do I need legal representation at a transport appeal meeting? And what can I do if I lose the appeal?

    Most parents do not have legal representation for transport appeals. However, do get representation if that would help your family feel more confident at the appeal panel. It is likely the panel will be virtual, unless you have asked for it to be in person. Taking your son could be useful if the appeal panel is in person, but the local authority (LA) will be making their decision using professional evidence and the law.

    If the appeal is lost, the next stage would be to make a formal complaint to the LA about their decision. If you are not happy with the outcome of the local appeal process, you may be able to take matters further to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). You can do this if you think the local authority did not follow proper procedure in the appeal or that the decision was not in keeping with the law. You can read more about this on our school transport webpage, or visit the LGO’s website for detailed information about how to make school transport complaints as well as examples of previous complaints they have considered.

    4. Our LA is considering replacing all post-16 transport provision with personal travel budgets and travel training, but they haven’t been clear about how eligibility will be assessed. What can I do?

    A personal travel budget (PTB) or travel training will not necessarily be appropriate for all young people. The local authority (LA) may offer a PTB and training in the first instance, but they must consider expectational circumstances. Paragraph 29 on page 10 of the government’s statutory guidance for post-16 transport and travel support provides details of the needs and circumstances that the LA must have regard to when assessing transport arrangements.

    Bear in mind that an LA must follow certain procedures when consulting on changes to its school transport policy. Inadequate consultations, inadequate policies, and blanket policies that restrict eligibility are all issues that we have identified across local authority transport policies. Some of these issues are potentially, and in some cases actually, unlawful – and could be reason to challenge the policy. I suggest taking a look at our webpage and factsheet about challenging transport policies for more information about this.

    5. My LA agreed to issue an EHC plan for my child last year, but we’ve not even seen a draft plan yet. Their transport team won’t organise transport until this plan is in place. How can we sort this out before September?

    This sounds very frustrating. First of all, I suggest that you put in a formal complaint to your local authority about the delay to the EHC plan, as they are well outside the statutory timescale.

    The transport team clearly need to know which school your child is going to in order to assess eligibility. However, having an EHC plan is not a necessary condition for transport. If everyone is in agreement about the chosen school and naming it is just a formality, then I suggest asking the SEN team if they can put this in writing in order to move things forward quickly.

    If you run into any issues or need further support, get in touch with our helpline so that one of our education advisers can help you.