Under section 508B of the Education Act 1996, local authorities are obliged to provide free, suitable transport for children with special needs or disabilities who cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school.
The Local Authority has an Essex Transport policy. If you wish to apply for transport to and from school, please apply via the Essex County Council website.
This Home to School Transport fact sheet will tell you:
- 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.
Can I apply for transport if its unsafe for my child to walk to school?
You can apply for transport if there is an unsuitable walking route. This applies if your child lives within the 2 or 3 mile limit but there is no safe walking route, for instance if the only route were along an unlit busy road with no pavement.
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. Statutory guidance says: ‘Usual transport requirements (e.g. the statutory walking distances) should not be considered when assessing the transport needs of children eligible due to SEN and/or disability.’ 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; for others there may be psychological or behavioural issues which may put a child at risk. Local authorities should consider whether a child can walk, alone or with an adult, and if it would be reasonable to expect a parent to accompany the child on foot. Age should also be taken into account, it may be reasonable to expect a parent to walk a 6-year-old to school but not a 15-year-old. Your ability to drive your child to school must not be considered when looking at eligibility under special educational needs or disability.
I have heard that transport needs to be non-stressful, what does that mean?
The issue of school transport for children with SEN was raised in the case of R v Hereford and Worcester CC, ex parte P  2 FCR 732. The court held that it was implicit that the transport provided by the LA should be “non-stressful” if the child was to benefit from education. This means the child needs to be able to arrive at school ready to learn, rather than being unduly stressed or tired because of the journey.
My child has learning difficulties and is going to need support and extra services around transport. What else is required to be done?
The government guidance, 'Home-to-school travel and transport', advises on particular issues affecting pupils with severe learning difficulties and it recommends that local authorities:
- ensure drivers and escorts are known to parents
- operator contact numbers are provided for parents
- ensure stability of staffing arrangements for pupils who dislike change
- encourage schools and transport services to use a home-school liaison diary
- ensure that journey times are reasonable to avoid undue stress.
Other legal requirements and good practice points covered by the guidance include:
- enhanced DBS checks for all drivers and escorts
- minimum standards of training for drivers and escorts, including training in conflict resolution, safe handling and working with children with particular medical conditions or disabilities where appropriate
- assessment and management of risk
- specific measures for pupils with health needs
- specific training for staff and vehicle adaptations for pupils with mobility needs.
The guidance recommends that travel needs of pupils with SEN be reviewed at least annually and that pupils should always travel by using mainstream arrangements and local travel schemes where they can. Reviews can decrease as well as increase transport support.
Can I appeal a transport decision?
If you want to appeal a school transport decision, see pages 27 and 28 of the Essex County Council Education Transport Policy to find out how to submit an appeal.
You may challenge a transport decision (within 20 working days of the date of your refusal letter) about/where:
- the transport arrangements offered;
- your child’s eligibility;
- you disagree with the distance measurement between your home and your child’s school or college in relation to statutory walking distances;
- you consider that the shortest available walking route is unsafe for a child, accompanied as necessary;
- there are other exceptional circumstances which mean that you cannot arrange for your child to access their school, examples might include your child’s special needs or medical condition means that they cannot be expected to walk to their school, or your medical condition means that you cannot accompany your child to their school;
- you feel the local authority has not applied this policy correctly.
Prepare your supporting evidence
Give detail about how or why you feel a policy is unfair, unlawful or has been applied incorrectly.
Provide supporting information about your child or young person’s disability or risk around getting to school or college safely.
Possible evidence might include:
- Your child or young person’s views for example, have they indicated they feel unable to, or are worried about getting to school or college on their own
- Experiences of managing your child ‘out and about’, eg. if they are prone to risky behaviour, or are unable to understand a bus timetable for example.
- Any information which shows that the suggested journey will cause stress and/or prevent your child from arriving ‘ready to learn’, for example, long journey times, unsafe route or the number of bus changes.
- Needs and provision within an EHC plan for example, specific sensory & learning difficulties, mobility or concerns around safety etc.
- Letters or reports from medical practitioners explaining any health or mobility needs
- Copies of educational notes, school/college reports, support plans, incident or behaviour logs etc.
- Social care reports or CAF notes from Family Network Meetings – notes recording any difficulties keeping your child safe
What else can I do if I am unsuccessful with my appeal?
You can complain to the local authority Making a formal complaint to a local authority
If you consider that there has been a failure to comply with the procedural rules of an appeal or if there are any other irregularities in the way the appeal was handled you may have a right to complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (“LGSCO”).
In an extreme case it may be possible for the process by which the decision was reached to be challenged through judicial review proceedings if the decision was unlawful, irrational or unjust.
My child has an EHC plan, does this mean that they are automatically entitled to transport?
Not automatically. If children with EHC plans fall in one of the categories of eligible children (set out in the section on children of compulsory school age detailed in Home to School Transport fact sheet) then they will be entitled to transport. If a child with an EHC plan lives within statutory walking distance but can reasonably be expected to walk to school on their own, and does not fit within one of the other categories, they will not be entitled to free home-school transport.
What does the law say about travel disclaimers?
Parents may prefer a different school that is further away than the nearest suitable school that is able to meet the child’s needs. However, if parents want that further school named in the child’s EHCP, they can be asked to sign a transport disclaimer to accept the full responsibility of arranging and funding transport costs.
Ipsea (Independent Provider of Special Education Needs Advice) say:-
If a school is named unconditionally in an EHC plan, then it is the child’s nearest suitable school, and transport must be provided if necessary.
However, if there is a closer suitable school, the LA can put wording in Section I to the effect that: “The closest suitable school is ‘A’ School. The parents have expressed a preference for ‘B’ School. The child can attend ‘B’ school on the condition the parents pay the cost of transport”.
SEND Code of Practice says
9.214 The parents’ or young person’s preferred school or college might be further away from their home than the nearest school or college that can meet the child or young person’s SEN. In such a case, the local authority can name the nearer school or college if it considers it to be appropriate for meeting the child or young person’s SEN. If the parents prefer the school or college that is further away, the local authority may agree to this but is able to ask the parents to provide some or all of the transport funding.
LAs will often say that if your child is not attending their nearest suitable school, then you are not entitled to free transport and you must pay for it. Section I of the child’s EHC plan will name two schools, and will contain a ‘condition’, saying something like “The LA believes the child’s needs can be met at School A. Parental preference is for School B. The child will attend School B on the condition the parents pay for transport.”
It’s important to understand exactly what the law says in this area. The case of S and another v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council  EWCA Civ 346 confirmed that there are three steps the LA must consider:
- Are both schools in fact suitable, and is there a place available at the LA’s proposed closer school? If the LA’s choice is not suitable, or there is no place available, then the parent’s choice is the nearest suitable school, and it should be named in the EHC plan unconditionally.
- If both schools are suitable, what would the cost be of providing transport to each of the schools?
- Is the cost of the parents’ choice of school significantly more expensive than the LA’s choice of school (including transport costs for both), to the extent that it represents an inefficient use of resources? If so, then the LA can name two schools, with the condition the parents provide transport to their choice of school. If the cost difference is not significant, then the LA must name the parents’ choice unconditionally.
Therefore, the local authority can legally put a travel disclaimer in the EHCP once they have considered the above points. Parents should carefully consider the possible implications of signing a travel disclaimer, in case they may not be in a position to transport their child in future. If parents sign a transport disclaimer then it will be their responsibility of arranging and funding the transport costs.
My Child has an EHC plan, can I appeal a decision on transport?
For children with EHC plans, issues around transport can become relevant in an appeal about the school named in Section I of an EHC plan and transport costs are relevant to the costs of a particular school placement. It is possible to appeal Section I of an EHC plan to have a sentence about responsibility for transport removed. But the SEND Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to deal with disputes about transport alone.
If you disagree with a decision made about transport, you will need to start by making an appeal through the local authority’s own internal appeals procedures. All local authorities should have an appeals procedure for parents to use when they have a complaint about the service or disagree with the eligibility of their child for travel support.
The government’s guidance 'Home-to-school travel and transport' says that the details of the appeals procedures should be published alongside local authority travel policy statements.