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School Transport can be a common cause of disputes between families and local authorities. Whilst every child is entitled to an education, there can be real difficulties in actually getting to the school
With reductions in budgets, local authorities continue to look to make savings. Over the past few years, local authorities have focused many of their budget cuts on school transport. That is because school transport can be very expensive.
Children automatically eligible for free school transport
Local authorities are required to make suitable, free, school transport available for eligible children aged 5 – 15 years.
Any arrangement for transport must be suitable. That involves an assessment of the individual child or young person’s needs to work out what is suitable. The department for education publishes regular guidance about the assessment of what is suitable transport. Key considerations include the child or young person arriving at school able to engage with the education on offer.
The categories of children eligible for free transport are defined in law. Relevant issues include special educational needs, disabilities and / or distance to the school.
Often, a local authority may claim that a child is not an “eligible” child. This can require specialist legal advice to challenge that decision. As soon as a child is recognised as being eligible, the local authority must provide suitable free school transport.
Children not automatically eligible for free school transport
For children who are not “eligible”, the local authority still has a power to provide transport.
If a parent applies for transport for a child who is not eligible, the local authority must at least consider the application and give specific reasons if it refuses. A local authority cannot apply a blanket policy to refuse transport for children who are not automatically “eligible”.
If the local authority agrees to provide transport for a child who is not eligible, it may ask parents for a contribution towards the costs of transport.
School transport for 16 and 17 year olds
Whilst 16 and 17 year old pupils are required to engage in education, there are limited duties on the local authority when it comes to providing school transport.
The main legal duty on a local authority is to prepare a transport policy statement. The policy must include the arrangements made by the local authority to ensure pupils with special educational needs and disabilities can engage with education.
It is important to note that there is no duty for the local authority to provide free transport for students who are 16 or 17 years old. However, the local authority is required to make adjustments for disabled pupils to enable them to access services, such as education. This could mean, in particular cases, that a young person may ask for free transport in light of their disabilities, but there is no clear legal obligation to do so.
Social services duty to provide school transport
The local authority may also be required to provide transport in line with their social care duties. If it is necessary for a local authority to provide services to enable a disabled person to access education, then social care may be required to make transport available.
This duty could only be relied on if the education functions of the local authority have no statutory duty to make transport available. As such, children and young people should consider if they are eligible first. If not, an application for discretionary transport should be made. If that is unsuccessful, the social care duty for transport should be considered.
My local authority are refusing to provide school transport
If you are having difficulties securing school transport, there are various options available to you. This can include a complaint to the local authority, raising the matter with the Local Government Ombudsman or challenging the decision by Judicial Review.
Even if school transport is offered by the local authority, there can often be concern that the method of transport is not suitable. If parents believe that the method of transport is unsuitable, they may have to again consider making a complaint or an application for Judicial Review.
School transport law can be very complicated. Resolving the dispute can also be difficult, especially applications for Judicial Review. As such, it may help you to take advice from our specialist education law solicitors who are happy to help.