SEND school transport in England: Your top 5 questions answered

7 mins read

Thursday 29 September 2022

Tags: facebook q&a, school transport

Our SEN advisers answered nearly 40 questions from parent carers during our recent Facebook Q&A about school transport in England, making it one of our busiest SEN sessions yet.

While it was great to be able to offer specialist advice to families, the session’s popularity is a reflection of how many hurdles families can face when trying to secure free school transport for their disabled children.

Below are our answers to 5 questions asked during the Q&A that we think other families will find helpful, but you can read them all in Contact’s private Facebook Group for parent carers.

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

1. My son’s door-to-door transport was changed to a pick-up point. This is unsafe for us, as it involves walking down a busy main road and he is prone to running off. What can I do?

Transport does not have to be door-to-door for everyone – local authorities can use pick-up and drop-off points. However, they do have to consider the suitability of transport arrangements for individual children. Some children may need door-to-door transport if their SEN or disability makes the usual transport arrangements difficult for them.

Make a complaint on the grounds that the local authority is failing to provide ‘suitable’ travel arrangements. Your local authority should have a complaints and appeals procedure for transport decisions published alongside their transport policy. I would suggest that you log your complaint through their complaints portal as well as emailing the manager. You should also check whether your local authority’s transport appeals system covers suitability as well as refusal of transport.

You can also quote the information on page 14 of the government’s Home to School Travel and Transport Guidance:

“Consideration should also be given to the walking distance required in order to access public transport. The maximum distances will depend on a range of circumstances, including the age of the child, their individual needs and the nature of the routes they are expected to walk to the pick up or set down points and should try to be combined with the transport time when considering the overall duration of a journey. With regards to pick up points, local authorities may at their discretion use appropriate pick up points when making travel arrangements. For arrangements to be suitable, they must also be safe and reasonably stress free, to enable the child to arrive at school ready for a day of study.”

Our page on school transport has some further information about suitable travel arrangements.

2. My 16-year-old was refused transport because he has a Motability car. I have 2 other children to get to school, so he’s in the car for nearly 3 hours a day. This is causing stress, meltdowns and issues with his epilepsy. Can I appeal?

Your local authority cannot refuse transport just because your son has a Motability car. The car is for his use, but that does not mean that someone must be available to drive it at all times. I suggest you argue that your son is not able to drive and there is no driver reasonably available to use the car. An Ombudsman decision from 2017 — concerning a case where the council insisted a mother take her son to college using his Motability car — states: “It does not mean nominated drivers must be continuously available to drive the car. Motability cars do not have to be relinquished if there are times when the nominated drivers are not available. The car is available for Mr Y to use for college, Ms X is not.”

Make the point that it is not reasonably practicable for your son to attend school if transport is not provided. You should also tell them that the current arrangement is stressful for your son, and that he arrives at school in no fit state to learn.

I suggest that you quote the information on page 10 and page 12 of the government’s Post-16 transport guidance. Page 10 has a paragraph which you can quote under: “The needs of those for whom it would not be reasonably practicable to access education or training provision if no arrangements were made.” And page 12 has another helpful paragraph about non-stressful transport which says: “Journey time also needs to be taken into account. Young people should be able to reach their education or training without incurring such stress, strain, or difficulty that they would be prevented from benefiting from the education provided.”

3. When my daughter was offered a place at school 9 miles away, the local authority said I would have to transport her myself or move her to our local school. She has an EHC plan. Can they force us to change schools if her current bus route is discontinued?

It sounds like the local authority (LA) feels there is a closer school that can meet her needs. LAs will often say that if the child is not attending their nearest suitable school, then you are not entitled to free transport and you must pay for it.

Sometimes, the LA may consider that another school nearer to home is also able to meet your child’s needs and that the additional transport to your preferred school costs too much. As the local authority feels the school nearer to your home is able to meet her needs, they have named the further school (her current school) as parental preference.

If her EHC plan names the preferred school with no conditions, and it is the only school named in section I of the plan, then it should count as the closest suitable for transport purposes. I suggest asking the LA to name your school of choice unconditionally in section I of her EHC plan. If you are still within 2 months of receiving a recent final EHC plan, you can appeal to the SEND Tribunal to get the further school named as the nearest suitable school and not as your parental preference.

4. Does my son have to attend a special school to be eligible for free transport?

No, your son does not need to be in a special school. Transport eligibility is independent of the type of school or whether the child has an EHC plan. The local authority must make transport arrangements for all children who cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school because of their mobility problems or because of associated health and safety issues related to their special education needs (SEN) or disability.

Your son may be eligible on grounds SEN/disability, eligibility should be assessed on an individual basis. You will probably need to apply formally for school transport to your local authority. Make sure to include as much information as possible with your application, including professional evidence, to show that your son meets the legal eligibility criteria. Our school transport webpage has more information on eligibility criteria.

5. My son goes to the only post-16 school that can meet his needs, but I have to pay for his transport. Are we entitled to help?

Legally, local authorities do not have to provide free transport for young people over 16 and can ask for parental contribution even if they were getting free transport previously. The issue of the setting being the only suitable place for your son is irrelevant to this.

Details of transport charging should be set out in the local authority policy. The amount should be reasonable and in line with travel costs for young people in the area without special education needs or disabilities. The contribution should also be affordable for low-income families. Arrangements should give details about any help available with travel costs, who is eligible, and how to apply. Our post-16 transport page has more information about this.

There may be alternative sources of funding to help with education costs, including transport. If your son meets the eligibility criteria, the 16-19 bursary may be available to help him with education-related costs, including transport. His school can also give you more information about financial support available.