Updated school transport guidance and the impact on disabled children

03 May 2024

Updated school transport guidance and the impact on disabled children

03 May 2024

School transport, Cerebra help with families of children with brain conditions.

This article was co-written by Cerebra, IPSEA, SOS!SEN and Contact.

We’ve previously expressed concerns about the Department for Education’s revised school transport guidance, Travel to school for children of compulsory school age: Statutory guidance for local authorities (see our previous posts on the Special Needs Jungle and Cerebra websites). We’re inviting families to complete a short school transport survey so that we can learn more about the impact of the revised guidance.

When the Department for Education published an updated version of the guidance on 25 January 2024, we hoped that it might address some of our concerns. On a positive note, the guidance no longer recommends the use of a formal letter to record a parent’s agreement to pay for transport to their preferred school (which would have left parents unable to challenge the arrangement at the Tribunal). But the Department hasn’t corrected what the guidance has to say about parents having to accompany their disabled children.

The guidance still places the onus on parents to accompany children of all ages to school, and includes a presumption that work, caring or family commitments will not normally be considered good reasons for being unable to accompany a child. It also expects parents to make ‘other suitable arrangements’ for their child’s journey to school.

Essentially the guidance says that the daily pressures of fitting work and family commitments around the school run apply to all parents in the same way and it’s up to parents to “fulfil their various responsibilities”. But the guidance doesn’t acknowledge that the pressures on parents of disabled children are different because their children will need to be accompanied to a much higher age than their non-disabled peers. So we think the guidance may discriminate against disabled children and their families, as they’re likely to be disproportionately disadvantaged by these requirements. We also think the guidance is inconsistent with legislation[i], case-law[ii] and earlier guidance,[iii] which have established that parents can only be expected to do what it ‘reasonably practicable’ to accompany children on the walk to school.

In our view, the guidance on accompaniment requires urgent review in order to uphold school transport and equalities law and to protect the rights of disabled children and their parents.

Have you been affected?

We’d like to hear from families who have been seriously affected by the changes to the school transport guidance. Do you have a disabled child aged 11-16 who’s been refused school transport because you live within 3 miles of their school and you’re expected to accompany them? If so, we’d be very grateful if you could complete our survey – it should only take a few minutes.

Your feedback will help us to understand how the revised guidance is affecting families and what we can do to challenge it.

[i] Section 508B and Schedule 35B of the Education Act 1996

[ii] See R v Devon County Council ex p George [1989] AC 573 (concerning unsafe routes, but likely applicable to eligibility for transport due to SEND or mobility problems).

[iii] See Department for Education, Consultation on home to school travel and transport guidance: Government response (July 2014), para 52, which explained that the 2014 guidance would require local authorities to consider whether it was ‘reasonably practicable’ for a parent to accompany their child.

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