Home to School Transport Policy changes raises potential new legal challenges
Changes to Home to School Travel for young people in Bristol could be implemented following a consultation – but families warn it may lead to Judicial Review.
Bristol City Council is currently consulting on changes to its Home to School Travel for children aged 5-16 and for Post 16 students.
A new ‘passenger code of conduct’ is being introduced by the council to help ‘provide a stress-free journey’ and ‘effectively manage behaviour.’
But this has caused concern from Bristol families who worry the new policy may discriminate against their children.
One thing raised in the code of conduct is ‘being rude’.
“I don’t think the council understands how haphazard transport can be,” Send parent Emily told us.
“When you have autistic children who struggle with transitions, we need transport to be reliable and sometimes it just isn’t.
“Sometimes it’s really very late. Or there has been times where the transport hasn’t arrived at all. This makes my child very anxious and they start to go into the early stages of a meltdown. To others, that might look like rudeness but it isn’t. It’s anxiety. I worry that with a code of conduct it will start affecting children who struggle with their mental health. I don’t have confidence that the policy will be applied fairly, not after already battling through the whole process to get to this point now.”
It’s not the only problem that’s been identified with the consultation.
Sally Kent of Bristol Send Justice raised concerns on X, that the council is leaving themselves open to a Judicial Review.
She posted: ‘Has it been looked over by the legal department, can’t have??’
The council is also proposing to bring in a ‘cut-off date’ for families applying for travel support for children ages 5 to 16 as well as Post 16 provision in their new policies. These cut-off dates would be published in advance on the Local Offer website.
The consultation says: ‘In both the age 5 to 16 and Post 16 policies we propose that applications for travel support must be made at least six weeks before the support is needed. This will allow enough time to review applications, assess eligibility, liaise with parent/carers around needs and risk assessments for travel, organise vehicles and escorts, and liaise with schools to ensure travel support is in place for the start of term.’
But lengthy delays between the issuing of new EHCPs and cut-off dates with Home to School Travel could see Bristol open to a Judicial Review.
The website of independent charity SOS! SEN reminds families that local authorities have a duty to secure the provision in Section F of EHCPs.
It says: ‘ If a child or young person cannot get to school/college because transport is not being provided, then the LA may be in breach of S42 Children & Families Act 2014 and may be challenged on that basis.’
Other areas of the council’s review aims to make the Home to School Travel ‘as effective as possible’. This includes making Disabled children travel to ‘collection points’ on routes away from home.
Bristol City Council has been trying to cut back on the Home to School Travel costs, which have increased due to a severe lack of specialist places in Bristol.
Recently, there was a suggestion by the council’s Director of Children and Education Transformation, Vanessa Wilson, that taxi drivers who arrived to collect children unable to go to school should not be paid.
Wilson told People Scrutiny Commission in September: “Taxis will not say to us by the way, I didn’t have to do this journey today: “These are specific examples where they’ve turned up and they’ve had the parents say to them “actually Johnny’s not going today” for whatever reason. But then they’re not informing that they’ve not had to do that route.”
At a budget scrutiny meeting in February 2022, the possibility of families paying for Home To School Travel was one raised by the Cabinet lead for Children’s Services and Education.
Asher Craig said: “...the contribution would would be, where I’ve seen it at work and it seems to work well in other Local Authorities, it would only be for those for those who can afford it…there would be…it’s all about affordability.”
The consultation is taking place until Wednesday 17 January 2024. The council says the responses will be ‘analysed’ with feedback helping them to develop the final proposals to their Home to School Travel Support Policy.
The final decision will be made at Cabinet on 5 March 2024.
More Bristol News from Chopsy Bristol
For Theatre News: https://backstagebristol.com