Local authorities in Wales must make free travel arrangements for eligible children of compulsory school age, that is to say 5 -16 year olds. This free transport is often crucial for families who have children with a disability or special educational needs. However, this becomes a discretionary duty for post-16 learners and given the current financial constraints that local authorities find themselves in, many post-16 learners, who had previously received free transport, found that they now have to pay. For many families with disabled children who aren’t independent travellers, particularly low income families, this poses problems as to whether or not they can afford for their children to actually continue to access school or further education college.
This became a particular concern with the special educational needs reforms, which are scheduled to be introduced in September 2021, since it will be possible for some disabled young people to attend an educational setting up to the age of 25. So, towards the end of last year the Welsh Government issued a written statement announcing a review of learner travel arrangements with an emphasis on post-16 learners, stating:
We agree that the current legislation that places duties on local authorities to make transport arrangements for learners of statutory school age based on distance, aptitude and safety are generally working well. However, we are aware of increasing concerns for post 16 learners where local authorities have discretion over travel arrangements.
We know that local authorities are facing tough financial decisions and as a result, discretionary travel arrangements are being affected in some local authorities. This has implications for all post 16 learners.
The Welsh Government has recently issued a second written statement extending the scope of the review to include not only 0-4 year olds but also look at the mileage thresholds:
As well as the 4-16 year old age group being included in the review, it will also consider the current mileage threshold.
Currently primary school pupils are entitled to free transport if they live outside two miles of their school, and secondary school pupils can get free transport if they live outside three miles of their school.
The statement also says that the review will now be due for completion by the end of March 2021.