How our helpline is helping parents challenge school transport policies
Tuesday 24th October 2017
Our school transport inquiry found that more than half of local school transport policies include unlawful statements or blanket policies.
We are also increasingly hearing that councils up and down the country are making changes to local transport policies. Unfortunately, some of these changes and consultations do not comply with the law.
That's why we have put together new information on our website on how parents and local groups can challenge local transport policies and consultations.
How a call to our helpline led to a successful school transport policy challenge
Here our helpline adviser Lesley Black explains how our advice helped a parent successfully challenge a local policy at an appeal.
"Nicola from Yorkshire* called our helpline about difficulties she was having with her daughter Rebecca's transport to school. I explained that unfortunately the law relating to school transport is not as specific for young people over 16 as it is for children of compulsory school age.
"Her local authority's post-16 policy is very rigid in setting out a distance criterion only for young people with special educational needs or disability (SEND), with no consideration as to whether a young person is able to walk or otherwise get themselves to school, even if they live less than three miles from the school or college.
Local authorities should not have a blanket policy
"I explained that local authorities should not have a blanket policy never to provide school transport for disabled young people. Having a blanket policy that they never depart from is known as 'fettering their discretion' and would be unlawful.
"So I explain to Nicola there is nothing to prevent the local authority looking at her daughter's individual circumstances and providing school transport if it is necessary.
"Government guidance on post 16 transport states that the policy must specifically cover young people with SEND. The local authority'spolicy does this. However, the local authority must also have regard to the needs of those who could not access education or training provision if no arrangements were made.
"This local authority's policy has not followed statutory guidance in not allowing any flexibility in departing from the three mile limit for young people with SEND.
"The blanket policy is also likely to be in breach of the Equality Act, particularly with reference to the Public Sector Equality Duty. The local authority has a duty to advance equality of opportunity between disabled people and those who are not disabled. In drawing up their policies, the local authority must look at whether disabled people would be particularly disadvantaged.
Making the case that transport is needed
"Once Nicola had argued that the policy is unlawfully restrictive using my advice, she then needed to make the case that her daughter cannot reasonably be expected to make her own way to school.
"Nicola used evidence such as details of her daughter's walking ability, her level of cognitive functioning and lack of awareness of danger. She also said that because of her own health condition, she wouldn't be able to accompany her daughter to school. As transport was already going to the school, it was unlikely to cost the local authority more to transport Nicola's daughter to school.
"The local authority reconsidered their decision and agreed to provide transport to school for Nicola's daughter."
* Nicola wanted us to use her name and share her story to help other parents. Our helpline is confidential, and we will not share your personal details with anyone outside of Contact without your permission.
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