Call our free helpline0808 808 3555
Call our free helpline
0808 808 3555
Information for families in England
Information for families in Scotland
Information for families in Wales
Information for families in Northern
The guidance below applies to children of compulsory school age
(5-16) in England. Read more about school
transport for young people over 16 in England.
Most children make their own way to school, accompanied by their
parents or independently if they are older. For some disabled
children this may not be possible, either because their school is
too far away or because they are not able to walk or use public
transport in the same way as other children.
Local authorities must make free travel arrangements for these
children. On this page we'll explain:
References to children with Education, Health
and Care (EHC) plans also apply to those who still have
statements under the old system.
Local authorities must make travel arrangements where necessary
to enable eligible children to attend school. These arrangements
must be provided free of charge. Local authorities also have
discretion to provide transport for a wider group of children -
this could be free or charged for.
To be entitled to free school transport, your child must attend
a 'qualifying school'. These are:
Some eligibility criteria apply to all children, and pupils with
special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) may qualify for
transport under these. Other eligibility criteria apply only to
children with a disability, special educational need or mobility
This applies if your child lives more than the statutory walking
distance from their nearest suitable school. Statutory walking
distance is defined as two miles for under-eights and three miles
for age eight and over. The distance measured is the shortest route
along which a child can walk in reasonable safety. This may not be
the same as the driving route and may include footpaths.
Unsuitable walking route
This applies if your child lives within the two or three-mile
limit, but there is no safe walking route to school. For example,
if the only route to school is along an unlit busy road with no
Children with a SEN, disability or mobility
If your child cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school
because of a special educational need, disability or mobility
problem, they will be entitled to free school transport regardless
of the distance they live from the school. An assessment must be
made on the child's individual needs.
This criterion applies to all children with SEND or mobility
difficulties, not just children with EHC plans or who attend
Some children may be unable to walk to school because of a
physical disability or medical issue. Others may have psychological
or behavioural issues that put them at risk.
Local authorities should consider whether a child is able to
make the journey on foot. If the child needs an adult with them to
make the journey safe, the local authority should also consider if
it's reasonable to expect a parent to do this. Walking to school
may not be possible for a disabled parent. Age should also be taken
into account: it may be reasonable to expect a parent to walk a
six-year-old to school, but not a 15-year-old.
Your ability to drive your child to school must not be
considered, even if your child receives the mobility element of Disability Living
Allowance, or you have a motability car.
Families on a low income
If your family is on a low income, the distance criteria are
more generous by lowering the statutory walking distance for over
eights and extending the range of schools.
You will meet the criteria for low income if your child is
eligible for free school meals or you are on the maximum amount of
working tax credit or equivalent under Universal Credit.
Your child will then be eligible for free travel if they
Children in pupil referral units
If your child is on roll at a mainstream school but has been
placed temporarily in a pupil referral unit, they can get school
transport if they meet the eligibility criteria, even if they don't
qualify for their usual school.
Most children now start school in the September after their
fourth birthday. There is no duty to provide transport until
children reach compulsory school age - the term after they turn
Your local authority may provide transport for four-year-olds in
reception class if they will be eligible when they are five. If you
are turned down, it may be possible to challenge a decision on
equality grounds if your four-year-old has to attend a school at
some distance from home, rather than their local mainstream
School preference for children with EHC
If your child has an EHC plan, you have the right to have your
preferred school named in section I if it meets specific criteria,
including suitability and efficient use of resources.
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. The local authority
must provide free school transport if your child is eligible.
Sometimes the local authority 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. The
local authority may then either:
If you are not happy about the named school, you can appeal to
the SEND tribunal.
The duty on the local authority is to make suitable 'travel
arrangements', which may not be door-to-door transport. Depending
on the needs of your child, you might be offered:
or, with your consent only:
Some families like the flexibility of a personal transport
budget to make their own arrangements. The local authority cannot
insist on this, even if you have a Motability car or your child
gets higher rate mobility of Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
The local authority has a duty to provide suitable transport
that is "non-stressful". The courts have defined this as transport
that enables a child "to reach school without undue stress, strain
or difficulty such as would prevent him from benefiting from the
education the school has to offer, […] [and] to travel in safety
and in reasonable comfort".
A bus pass and a programme of travel training may, for example,
be appropriate for a young adult with moderate learning
difficulties. But it might be highly unsuitable for an 11 year old
with severe autism and sensory sensitivities, who may need
door-to-door transport with an escort. Children with physical
disabilities may need specialist seating or a wheelchair-accessible
Statutory guidance recommends maximum journey times of 45
minutes for primary-aged children and 75 minutes for secondary.
Some parents report that staff on school transport are caring
and a full part of their child's education team. In other cases,
drivers and escorts may be unaware of children's difficulties and
poorly trained to handle their behaviour. Guidance is clear that
all staff should have up-to-date training, including:
Local authorities must also ensure that the necessary
safeguarding checks are carried out.
You will probably need to apply formally for school transport to
your local authority. Some local authorities require parents to
reapply annually or at major transition points, such as moving to
secondary school. Information on how to apply should be on the
local authority's website and "local offer" site.
You should include as much information as you can with your
application. It's important to show that your child meets the legal
eligibility criteria. If you are applying under the SEND criterion,
explain in detail:
You may be unhappy with a local authority decision on school
transport, either because they have decided your child is not
eligible or you think that the transport offered is not suitable.
Your local authority should have a complaints and appeals procedure
for transport decisions. This should be published alongside the
Statutory guidance recommends a two- stage procedure involving
an initial review by a senior officer followed by an independent
appeal panel. However, there is no legal requirement to follow this
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. The LGO has issued a
focus report on school transport (see Find out
More section), which gives examples of some cases they
have dealt with.
It may be possible to take legal action against the local
authority via the judicial review process. It is important to get
independent legal advice before taking this step.
If there is a dispute over the closest suitable school and the
local authority has put more than one school in section I of the
EHC plan or a note to say that parents will be responsible for
school transport, you can appeal to the SEND tribunal to have your
preference named as the only school.
Also see our page on
school transport consultations. This will be useful to parent
carer forums and groups and individual parents who want to
challenge a local school transport policy. It will help you
Local Government Ombudsman:
How we can help:
Download our factsheet Home to
school transport [PDF].
Our helpline advisers can explain your
rights to school transport and tell you how you can challenge
decisions you're not happy with. Call our helpline on 0808 808 3555
Local authorities in Scotland must make arrangements they
consider necessary to provide free transport to school for pupils
living in their area.
The law also allows authorities to provide free transport even
when they don't have a legal duty to do so (called the 'power of
discretion'). This means that every local authority in Scotland may
have a different policy around free transport, so contact your
local authority for specific details.
The local authority may provide free transport to:
Free transport to school is usually offered to pupils who live
further away than the "statutory walking distances". These are two
miles for pupils under eight and three miles for pupils above
eight. Regardless of distance, local authorities must consider the
safety of the route to school and they can provide free transport
Children may be entitled to free home-to-school transport
because they have additional support needs. These needs may be
short or long term. The local authority should consider your
child's individual needs.
The local authority will decide whether your child requires
special arrangements, such as an escort, or equipment such as
specialised seating. To be suitable, transport must be safe and
"non stressful". This means that your child arrives at school ready
It is a good idea to talk about school transport before
requesting a particular school for your child. The law about free
transport can be complicated.
You should provide clear information about your child's
additional needs, disability and any health needs when you apply
If your child has been placed in either:
the local authority should pay attendance costs and may provide
free transport if your child has additional support needs.
If your child cannot go to their local school because of a
medical condition, the local authority may decide to provide free
transport to the school they do attend. They will usually consult
the appropriate health board when making a decision.
The education authority can also provide free transport for your
child to travel to pre-school for example nursery.
Transport is usually by bus, taxi, ferry or aeroplane. If you
take your child yourself, you may be able to claim travelling
The local authority is responsible for your child's safety and
supervision while in the vehicle. The local authority should
consider your child's safety, their age and their additional
support needs. They should also involve the parent carer and child
in discussions about the type of transport and agreeing in advance
what should happen if there is an emergency on the way to
Some children who receive transport because they have additional
support needs require the services of an escort. Escorts may be
employed to accompany your child in the taxi or bus to and from
school. They will need to know about your child's needs and should
receive training if necessary. Drivers may also need specialist
Escorts are responsible for helping pupils on/off the vehicle,
using specialist equipment if necessary and ensuring pupil's
safety, dignity and comfort during the journey. Escorts can also
relay information between home and the school if required. Escorts
are not responsible for taking pupils from their home to the
transport vehicle. This is the responsibility of the parent
The head teacher is usually the line manager for the escorts and
is responsible for their induction and training needs. For
out-of-authority placements the line management responsibility lies
with the Additional Support Needs Manager, but day-to-day
communication will be via the head teacher.
Scottish Ministers expect authorities, when negotiating school
transport contracts, to require that all drivers and escorts are
fully scrutinised by Disclosure Scotland. Relevant checks should be
undertaken by the company and the authority as necessary.
If an authority subsequently has concerns about the suitability
of an individual driver or escort in such circumstances, the
authority should take this up directly with the bus/taxi company or
other appropriate authorities.
By law, anyone who provides childcare or who supervises children
should be fully checked through Disclosure Scotland.
Local authorities have a duty to provide free school transport
to pupils up to the age of 16 where they consider it 'necessary' in
order to get them to the nearest suitable school. This will depend
on various circumstances, including the walking distance between
home and school, family and social circumstances, health,
additional needs and/or disability.
Local authorities generally have a duty to provide free school
transport to the child's nearest suitable school if it is beyond
the statutory walking distance from their home. Walking distance is
measured as the shortest available route.
The walking distance is defined as:
If your preferred school is beyond the statutory walking
distance but the local authority considers that there is a nearer
suitable school, the local authority does not have to provide free
There are other situations where transport may be considered
necessary. Local authoritiess can provide transport to pupils
However, local authorities have the discretion to pay part or
all of any pupil's reasonable travelling costs.
Local authorities must publish their home to school transport
policy on an annual basis. They should have a clear policy on
transport for children with special educational needs.
Transport can be included in part four or six of the
statement of special educational needs, but it is usually only
included in exceptional cases where a child has particular
Many families experience difficulties in getting the local
authority to provide suitable transport for their child and have to
challenge them. Contact our free helpline if you
experience any difficulties.
You can find our more by reading the
Learner Travel Statutory Provision and Operational Guidance June
The education authority has a legal
duty to make free-of-charge travel arrangements for children and
young people with an identified need.
Eligibility for transport assistance is set out in the
Department of Education Circular 1996, (updated September 2009), a
copy of which can be obtained at the link
Department of Education Circular 1996.
The education authority is not required to provide transport for
children under compulsory school age, including reception,
pre-school and nursery.
The education authority must make sure that school bus drivers,
taxi drivers and escorts have enhanced criminal records checks
through Access NI.
Your child will be entitled to transport assistance if there is
no suitable school within statutory qualifying distance of your
home, or if they have been refused a place in all suitable schools
within statutory qualifying distance from your home.
For children with statements of special educational needs, the
education authority must carefully consider whether free transport
should be included in the statement.
For example, this might be if they use a wheelchair, or if they
have a medical condition or severe learning difficulty. The
education authority will draw on medical and other advice as
required. Children may be eligible on medical grounds following a
recommendation in writing from a clinical medical officer.
Not all pupils with statements of special educational needs will
have special transport needs, and they may not be entitled to
transport assistance. The education authority will decide on a
If the education authority decides that your child needs free
school transport, it will make appropriate transport arrangements.
Transport is usually recorded in part six of the statement. This
part of the statement is not legally binding. However, there is a
general expectation that the education authority will make suitable
arrangements for transport if this is mentioned.
You can find out more in
Guidelines - Special Education Pupils - Updated January
The education authority also provides transport for children
with statements whose parents have not made suitable arrangements
themselves. This may be because the school is difficult to access
by public transport and the parents don't drive.
As a parent, you can make a request for your child to attend a
particular school. The education authority doesn't have to name
your preferred school on your child's statement if it believes that
another (nearer) school would be able to meet your child's
Sometimes the education authority will name your preferred
school on the condition that you meet all or part of the transport
costs. This arrangement should be written into your child's
statement. If you do not agree with the school named in your
child's statement, in certain circumstances you can appeal to the
Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).
If the education authority names your choice of school in the
statement and the distance from your home is over the statutory
walking distance, then the board must pay transport costs - unless
an agreement that you should pay has been previously reached.
If it's agreed that you will pay for transport, this agreement
does not have to last for the whole time your child attends that
school. The courts in England (where the law is similar) have said
that if family circumstances change and parents are no longer able
to make suitable arrangements, the local authority must use its
discretion to decide whether to offer assistance.
If your child does not hold a statement of special educational
needs, please contact your local transport office.
If your child is eligible for assistance with transport, it is
up to the education in your region to decide on the means of
transport or other assistance that is necessary.