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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Some councils' school transport costs nearly as high as child social care

Date: 20/11/2019
Summary: Councils in England have warned that home-to-school transport, on which many children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) depend, is under threat because of “unsustainable” costs and insufficient funding.

A report commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) and County Councils Network has revealed that councils are spending more on home-to-school transport than they spend on children’s centres, family support or youth services.

In some areas where the costs of transport are disproportionately high, often because of long distances in rural settings, the LGA says the school transport budget is almost as large as the entire children’s social care budget.

According to the LGA, 550,000 young people currently receive free home-to-school transport each year, of which 145,000 are pupils with Send whose transport accounts for 69% of total expenditure. New analysis shows that annual costs have increased by £66m in the last four years and could rise by a further £127m to reach £1.2bn by 2024.

One of the key drivers for the increase in costs is that children with Send are increasingly being sent further afield to specialist schools because of a shortage of suitable places closer to home.

Campaigners have warned that cash-strapped councils are already making “ill-considered” cuts to home-to-school transport, prompting safeguarding concerns. In some cases, they say, disabled children with significant health needs are having to wait at pick-up points in freezing weather or are being asked to travel alone, when they really need support.

Gillian Doherty, the founder of the parents’ campaign network Send Action, said some are being asked to travel for unacceptable amounts of time as transport routes are changed to save money. Others have lost their transport entirely despite still being of compulsory school age, meaning their parents have had to give up work to transport them.

The LGA report found that councils had already cut discretionary transport spending by 27%, reducing the number of children receiving free home-to-school transport by more than 10,000 in five years. “Despite these efforts, many continue to have to tighten eligibility even further or strip back discretionary support altogether,” the LGA warns.

There has been a 27% increase in pupils being placed in special schools since 2014 as mainstream schools – faced with funding and accountability pressures, plus curriculum changes – feel less able to offer places to children with Send.

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Free school transport is a lifeline for many pupils and their families but it must be adequately funded if councils are to meet their legal duties to all children and young people.

“While a special school may be the right setting for a particular child, it is also vital that mainstream schools are incentivised and rewarded for offering a high quality and suitable education for children with special needs.”

Doherty said: “We agree that ideally children with Send should be able to attend schools within their community. However, for this to happen, councils and the government must invest in the specialist provision that children need to thrive in local schools.”

The government recently announced a review of Send provision and has pledged additional funding.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to make sure that children are able to access the free home to school transport they are entitled to, which is why we recently consulted on a revised version of the statutory home to school transport guidance. We will consider the recommendations outlined in this report alongside our response.”

Source: The Guardian

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