Transport in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
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:
- Which children are eligible for free school transport.
- What sort of transport can be provided.
- How to apply for school transport.
- How to challenge a school transport decision.
- Where to find out more.
References to children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans also apply to those who still have statements under the old system.
Local authority duties in brief
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:
- State maintained schools.
- Academies, free schools and pupil referral units.
- An independent school named in section I of your child's EHC plan. You can't get school transport if your child does not have an EHC plan and is placed at an independent school at your own expense.
Who is eligible?
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 difficulty.
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 pavement.
Children with a SEN, disability or mobility difficulty
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 special schools.
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 are:
- Age eight-10 living over two miles from the nearest suitable school.
- Age 11-16 living within two and six miles of school if it is one of the three nearest suitable schools.
- Age 11-16 living between two and 15 miles of the nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion or belief.
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 five.
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.
School preference for children with EHC Plans
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:
- Name the further school as parental preference but state in the EHC plan that there is a closer suitable school and so the parent will be responsible for school transport.
- Name the closer school only.
If you are not happy about the named school, you can appeal to the SEND tribunal.
School Transport options
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:
- A bus pass for use on public transport.
- Travel training to enable an older child to walk or take public transport on their own.
- A place on a dedicated school bus.
- A shared taxi or minibus.
- An individual taxi with or without an escort.
or, with your consent only:
- A mileage allowance or personal transport budget.
- A walking escort.
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 vehicle.
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:
- An awareness of different types of disability including "hidden" disabilities.
- An awareness of what might be discrimination.
- Skills to communicate with children with different disabilities and to manage behaviour.
Local authorities must also ensure that the necessary safeguarding checks are carried out.
Applying for school transport
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:
- Why your child is not able to walk to school. Give both physical reasons and any need for close supervision.
- The actual journey on foot and how your child would be affected.
- If you have professional evidence of your child's walking ability or the difficulties they have in public places, include that too.
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 transport policy.
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 particular procedure.
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 understand:
- Local authorities' duties with regard to transport policies.
- The need for a fair consultation.
- Common issues on which a policy could be challenged.
Find out more
- Statutory guidance from the Department for Education - Home to School travel and transport guidance
- Your local authority's local offer site should have information on travel assistance and a link to the full school transport policy.
Local Government Ombudsman:
- Transport complaints http://www.lgo.org.uk/make-a-complaint/fact-sheets/education/school-transport
- Focus report on school transport http://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/reports/focus-reports
How we can help:
Download our factsheet Home to school transport [PDF].
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:
- Your child's local school.
- The school in which it has offered your child a place, for example a special school that meets your child's needs.
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 if necessary.
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 to learn.
Requesting school transport
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 for transport.
If your child has been placed in either:
- An independent special or grant-aided special school in Scotland
- A school elsewhere in the UK
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.
Types of transport
Transport is usually by bus, taxi, ferry or aeroplane. If you take your child yourself, you may be able to claim travelling expenses.
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 school.
Escorts and drivers
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 training.
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 carer.
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.
Sources of further help and information
- Education (Scotland) Act 1980, Sections 51, 60-60G
- Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004
- The parents' guide to additional support for learning, Enquire (2014)
- Scottish Government - School transport guidance.
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.
The school is beyond 'walking distance'
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:
- Up to two miles for pupils in primary school.
- Up to three miles for pupils in secondary school.
If you have chosen a school beyond walking distance
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 school transport.
Other situations when transport may be considered necessary
There are other situations where transport may be considered necessary. Local authorities can provide transport to pupils who:
- For medical reasons, or because they have a disability, cannot walk to school.
- Live within the walking distance but who, without free transport, could not reasonably be expected to get to school.
However, local authorities have the discretion to pay part or all of any pupil's reasonable travelling costs.
Information about the local authority's home to school transport
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 and statements
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 transport needs.
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 2014 [PDF].
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 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.
Statutory Walking Distance and Eligibility
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.
Children with special educational needs or disabilities
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 case-by-case basis.
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 2016.
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 needs.
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 Special Educational 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.
Find out more
- Education Authority Belfast Region: 028 9056 4000
- Education Authority North Eastern Region: 028 2565 3333
- Education Authority South Eastern Region: 028 9056 6200
- Education Authority Southern Region: 028 3751 2200
- Education Authority Western Region: 028 8241 1411
- Read more common transport queries answered by our experts.