Half of parents of disabled children forced to reduce working hours due to 'unlawful' cuts to school transport
Summary: Nearly half of parents with disabled children have been forced to reduce their working hours or give up work completely in order to assist their child in getting to school, as many are wrongly refused local authority support, new findings show.
A study by Contact, a charity for families with disabled children, found that 48 per cent of parents were being affected, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) saying the difficult journeys also harmed their child’s ability to learn.
An investigation by the charity found that out of 59 local authority transport policies for children with additional needs in England, more than half included unlawful blanket statements, or other restrictive criteria, informing parents they aren’t entitled to support.
Many incorrectly maintained that children required a Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) in order to be eligible for school transport.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils were working hard to ensure suitable travel arrangements are made for disabled children, but that it was becoming increasingly difficult in the face of “sustained financial challenges”.
It comes after the UK Government faced heavy criticism from the United Nations for failing to uphold the rights of disabled people; one of the allegations was that there has been an rise in disabled children being “segregated” from mainstream education.
According to the findings, almost one in five (19 per cent) families part or fully fund their child’s school transport, with half of those paying more than £500 per year.
Meanwhile, 17 per cent said their child is late for school once or twice a week due to travel arrangements, and 16 per cent said their children have a journey time of more than an hour.
Bayta Greaves from Buckingham, whose daughter Lili has autism along with social and emotional difficulties, said they had been denied transport support from the local authority.
“Lili was moved to a new secondary school when she was in year 10. Her new school was much smaller than her old one and better suited her needs,” she said.
“To get there though, she needed to take the public bus and she struggled with the long journey and felt vulnerable – for example, if people talked to her. She found it all very stressful.
“We applied to our local council for home-to-school transport but were refused. They told us that there was a nearer suitable school and because she didn’t have an Education, Health and Care Plan she therefore wasn’t eligible for free school transport.
“There was no flexibility on their part and no taking into account that this school suited her much better, and how stressful she found using public transport.”
Amanda Batten, chief executive of Contact, said that school transport for disabled children was “in crisis”, urging that cuts to school transport can have “devastating” consequences for disabled children and their families.
“Our survey reveals that for disabled children and their families, school transport, whatever aspect you look at, is in crisis. It’s an integral part of a child’s education but if a child can’t get to school, or has a stressful experience getting there, they aren’t able to learn or take part in the school day like other children,” she said.
“Parents tell us that some local authorities are reducing or changing school transport services – often with little notice. Some are offering unsuitable transport, charging for it or removing it altogether.
“The system is broken. We know councils are having to make difficult decisions due to budget cuts, but a small change to school transport for disabled children can have far reaching and devastating consequences for families who already face significant challenges in their daily lives.”
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Local authorities take their responsibility to provide home-to-school transport for those in need very seriously, with councils continuously looking at innovative approaches to enable them to provide a coordinated and high quality service for children and their parents.
“Councils are working hard to ensure suitable travel arrangements are made for children who could not reasonably be expected to walk or would otherwise find it difficult to attend school because of distance, mobility, special educational needs or the routes they have to take. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of such sustained financial challenges.
“With councils facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services in the next three years they have responded by reducing costs and finding new ways to deliver services. But there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on.
In light of the findings, Education Secretary Justine Greening has said there will be a review of the statutory guidance for local authorities on transport for disabled children.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are investing £222m over four years to help local authorities improve special educational needs and disability (SEND) services, and local authorities must provide school transport for all eligible children with SEND.
“In light of the findings by Contact, the department will review the statutory guidance for local authorities to ensure it is clear.”
Source: The Independent
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