The Director of Environment and Commercial Services will be in attendance to provide an overview of the new scrutiny topic of School Transport.
RECOMMENDATION: that the Panel considers Terms of Reference for this scrutiny and what further information is required.
The Director of Environment and Community Services provided a presentation on School Transport. The Council’s Home to School Transport Policy related to the Education Act 1996 and additional duties required by the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
National guidance (last issued in July 2014 by the Department for Education) set out the expectations of Local Authorities with regard to home to school transport arrangements for pupils. In particular, the guidance set out the circumstances in which the local authority had a duty to provide or arrange free school transport for children of compulsory school age.
Free home to school transport or assistance would be provided for the following eligible pupils who would be of compulsory school age during the current academic year:
a) A primary school age pupil attending their nearest suitable school and that school was over 2 miles from the home address, where the distance was determined by the Council and used the shortest walking distance along which a child, accompanied as necessary, might walk with reasonable
b) A secondary school age pupil attending their nearest suitable school and that school was over 3 miles from the home address, where the distance was determined by the Council and used the shortest walking distance along which a child, accompanied as necessary, might walk with reasonable safety.
c) A secondary school age pupil from a low income family and attending:
· any one of their three nearest suitable schools and the school was
between 2 and 6 miles away from their home address.
· the nearest school preferred by their parents on the grounds of religion or belief and the school is between 2 and 15 miles away from their home address.
Transport requirements were considered as part of a full assessment of a child’s special educational needs. If a child’s needs were such that there were no associated transport requirements, then eligibility for free transport or assistance would be assessed against the Council’s policy. If a child was unable to walk the statutory distance to their nearest appropriate school because of their special educational needs or disability, even if accompanied by a responsible adult, the Council would, subject to the statutory assessment/annual review process, provide travel assistance.
The number of children with complex or special educational needs was increasing year on year and some required medical support to travel with them.
Whilst it was acknowledged that some families had access to a mobility car but their child used school transport services, it was explained that often individual circumstances made this a complex issue. The Council was able to offer parents an allowance if they were able to transport their own child. Personal transport allowance was a sum of money calculated for each family to cover the cost of travel to and from school. A mileage allowance of 45 pence per mile could be awarded for the return journey to and from school at the beginning and end of the school day. Allowances were calculated on an individual basis and varied from family to family.
In the current academic year, due to the pressures in school transport, Middlesbrough Council wrote to all parents to advise them of this offer and approximately 62 families in Middlesbrough had taken it up. In some cases, where children qualified under this policy for assistance with transport, the Council would consider offering a personal transport allowance instead of direct transport provision, where this was in the best interests of the child and was the lowest cost option for the Council.
When a child was permanently excluded from a mainstream school and the Council was required to secure alternative provision for them, they would be entitled to free transport or assistance to an approved alternative provider, commissioned by the Council, in accordance with the policy for mainstream and special schools. It was expected that assistance would be on a temporary basis until such a time as the child was re-integrated into mainstream or special school and would be subject to review.
Other reasons for providing school transport included: temporary illness, parent(s) with disability or no safe walking route. Working closely with Education, the Council would, in the first instance, try to help children travel independently by providing travel training to use either public transport or school buses.
Children could travel on Council owned buses or minibuses or taxis from the private sector, with or without passenger assistants alongside. A mix of activity took place. A total of 1556 children were currently supported with transport by Middlesbrough Council and the cost of the service was £3.5 million per year.
Post-covid, the market place for transport had been much more challenging. There had been a reduction in the number of licensed taxis and bus companies. Significant numbers of drivers had left the industry during covid and found new employment elsewhere. The Council needed to move to a different model with more in-house provision and less reliance on the private sector. This would bring its own challenges, with the lead-in time for purchasing a new minibus currently around one year. Another issue this year had been increasing inflation and the impact on fuel prices. The Council had made an arrangement through Procurement to provide extra fuel payments as appropriate.
From January 2023, School Transport would be moving to the Children’s Services Directorate. An incredible amount of work was taking place daily to ensure Middlesbrough children were able to get to school.
The Chair thanked the Director for his presentation.
AGREED that the information provided was received and noted.