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Home to school transport cuts "ill-thought-through"

Home to school transport cuts "ill-thought-through"

Published by Charlotte Fisher at 2:47pm 12th March 2019. (Updated at 2:50pm 12th March 2019)

Disability charity calls cuts to school transport for disabled children “ill-thought-through”.

Leading independent charity Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) has expressed severe concerns about the County Council’s intention to cut home-to-school transport for disabled children and young people.

They have called the changes ‘ill-thought-through’ and ‘potentially very damaging’ for local families.

BuDS’ analysis of the County’s plan, agreed at Cabinet on 4th March, has exposed a number of unanswered questions:

  • Will school and public bus drivers and their ‘assistants’ know enough about disabled children and young people to do their job, especially for those with invisible disabilities and potentially challenging behaviour? Who is going to train them and is there a budget for the training?
  • What about keeping disabled children and young people safe? Some disabled young people can be very vulnerable – a 2018 poll of learning-disabled people using Bucks buses revealed that all of them had been cheated on their change by bus drivers at some point. Have County undertaken a safeguarding assessment looking at the risk posed by many more vulnerable young people using public transport? If parents do not feel their child will be safe on public transport, what then?
  • County have proposed that disabled young people will be trained to be able to travel independently on public transport. But there are no details of who is going to deliver this training, how it will be funded, or even how likely it is that disabled young people will be able to overcome the many barriers presented by public transport? Everyone is individual, and it would not be a case of developing one programme which could be implemented for all.
Home to school transport cuts "ill-thought through" according to charity
The changes to home to school transport were brought in earlier this month
  • This change will place much more burden on parents and carers. Has that been assessed? Will carer assessments be carried out and additional support given to parents? What about working parents – will their employers be happy to give them different hours so they can take their children to school? Families with a disabled member are often much poorer and more vulnerable to financial stress than others – have County assessed how this change might hit the pockets of parents?
  • Will this lead to many more disabled children and young people not attending school regularly or even having to leave school to be home educated? Have County thought about how this change might impact on their support for home educated children?
  • Finally, this could lead to a lot more private car movements to schools. Do schools have enough Blue Badge parking and accessible approaches?

Ann Hedges, BuDS Trustee, said:

“We appreciate the financial pressures that County have, but this change will massively increase the burden on parents and carers, and cause knock-on changes such as increasing the need to support families and causing disabled people to drop out of education.

"The cuts seem to be very short-sighted and done without thinking about the long-term implications not just for disabled people but County itself”.

Andrew Clark, BuDS Chair of Trustees, added:

“These changes do seem to be ill-thought-through and ‘potentially very damaging for Bucks families.

"We urge the Council to go back and look at them again, especially in the light of all the other cuts to services which are also impacting families with a disabled member”.

Buckinghamshire County council respond

Mike Appleyard, Cabinet Members for Children's Services, said:

"The changes we are introducing to home to school transport for young people over 16 with special educational needs and/or disability (SEND) will be introduced alongside increased support. 

"This will help them to travel independently so that, where possible, they can develop essential life skills. We will also make sure that young people and their parents are given information to access bursary payments to contribute to costs of their transport.  In this way, we aim to minimise disruption to parents, carers and young people wherever possible.”

“We recognise that change can create uncertainties and so we will put in place support early, working with families to understand what these changes will mean to them.

"For all current transport users that will mean understanding what the impacts are on the ability to travel independently. Where independent travel training and a bursary application is not an option, we explore other choices available.”

“The changes we have introduced to transport for students with a SEND match national policy. We do not wish to cause families concern about school transport and we are continuing with specialist transport support to schools and colleges, but asking for a contribution towards the cost of the transport. Costs for SEND transport have increased by over £3m in the last five years (from around £6m to £9m).”

Students aged 16-19 with a SEND can apply for a bursary to assist with costs if they stay in education. These bursaries are arranged through the Education Funding Agency.

They give a guarantee £1,200 per year to: young people in care, care leavers, young people claiming Income Support or Universal Credit, or those in receipt of Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance.

Schools and colleges also award bursary funding, applying their own criteria to determine how much is paid.

The decision to charge for school transport for students over the age of 16 with SEND was made on Monday 4 March.

From September 2019, the County Council will be requesting a contribution to the cost of home to school transport for children with SEND who are over the age of 16. This will replace the free transport offer currently in place.

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