OCC Transportation Consultation Response

  • April 26, 2018
1024 768 Frank Wise School

OCC Transport Consultation Response

April 2018

Excerpts from the 5-16 Consultation

1.5 States that free and subsidised transport is not provided for children of pre-school age irrespective of whether they have an EHCP.

1.7 States that eligibility for free travel will be determined at the time that a school place is allocated through the issuing of an EHCP.

1.9 States that having an EHCP does not give automatic entitlement to transport if the school is not the nearest suitable school.

1.11 Restricts free travel and the spare seat scheme from being used for extracurricular activities.

1.17 Raises the possibility of free transport potentially being available to children who cannot walk to the nearest available school due to permanent or temporary medical/disability/mobility issues.

1.19 says taxis will only be used where it can be demonstrated that a young person is unable to travel on public transport or a coach/minibus due to specific permanent or temporary disabilities/special needs.

1.21 States that specialised tail lift vehicles will only be agreed after an assessment by the Supported Transport Service.

2.3 Expects parents to accompany their child as necessary when walking to and from school, and to submit any Stage 1 or Stage 2 appeal.

3.1 In describing the statutory walking distance and dealing with issues raised about it regarding safety, it sets out that the School Admissions Team will undertake an initial assessment and if necessary a full road safety assessment by a member of the Traffic and Road Safety Team.

4.6 Restricts assessments purely to the relationship between pedestrians and traffic, completely ignoring personal safety / security issues of children travelling alone.

5.1 Says that children who cannot walk to school because of their mobility problems or because of associated health and safety issues related to their special educational needs or disability (SEND), will not automatically be refused free travel on the basis that they live within the statutory walking distance of the school attended, if that school is the nearest that they could attend.

5.2 Places the onus on the parents to present evidence from a GP or to have ensured that the EHCP fully covers the problems to make the case for provision of transport.

5.3 Emphasises with the whole bullet point in bold and the final part also underlined that free transport will only be provided to the nearest suitable school.

6.5 States that whether there is a requirement to assist in meeting a child’s travel needs will be considered when an EHCP is issued or amended.

11.1 The child’s home is defined as the main place of residence during the normal school week, and that travel can only be provided to and from that one address.

12.1 No free travel will be provided to attend extracurricular activities/clubs, including for children with an EHCP.

13.7 Says that an acceptable standard of behaviour is expected of all young people using transport provided by the council.

19.4 States that the School Admissions Team determine eligibility for free travel for those children with an EHCP.

20.1 Part (c) says that children are eligible for free travel if it would not be safe for the child to be accompanied by an adult to walk from the home to the school. Parts (e) and (f) introduce high levels of complexity around FSM and Working Tax Credits and children age within different age ranges and different distances.

20.1 Part (i) states that children within this category are eligible for free travel if:  “Children who cannot walk to school because of their mobility problems or because of associated health and safety issues related to their special educational needs (SEND) or disability, if the school they attend is the nearest suitable and available school that they could attend. In the case of a child with an Education Health and Care Plan, the Plan may provide all the information required.”

22.1 This refers to the judgement of the SEND Team as to which school can suitably meet the child’s assessed needs, and that if this is nearer than one the family choose then transport will not be provided.

23 Describes the automatic provision of free travel to out of county residential schools for children with an EHCP, and even free travel for their parents to attend various meetings and reviews.

25.1 Explains that the spare seat scheme cannot be guaranteed for more than one term if it has been allocated.

Excerpts from the Post-16 Consultation

1.4 Says that the council will normally only provide assistance with travel where there is a barrier to accessing or remaining in education and where all other options have been investigated and are not available, as evidenced by the parent. It also states that a contribution towards costs will normally be required.

5.1 Refers to discussions between the School Admissions Team and SEND Services to ensure the needs of the child are fully understood as they relate to travel arrangements.

Response on behalf of Frank Wise School

There are perfectly valid reasons for the council seeking to control the costs of provision of transport for children, including those with SEND and those who have an EHCP. The need to control costs however must surely align with the council’s stated priorities with regard to aspirations to improve outcomes for vulnerable learners, including addressing three key issues of attendance, children missing out on education, and the quality and timeliness of producing EHCPs.

Reading through both consultations the proposals feel disconnected from the educational aspirations of the council, and in some cases it is very clear that the proposals are purely emerging from the need to reduce costs with no consideration of impact on educational outcomes evident.

Furthermore, the tone of the consultations fails to offer a supportive voice to families who already have to fight to get the EHCP they feel their child needs, fight to find a suitable and available special school place, fight to have these things provided within statutory timescales or anything close to acceptable, and fight to find out what health and social care support they might need. The tone will raise fears in parents of children with SEND and despite certain passages in the consultations appearing to completely reassure the reader that necessary free travel can and will be provided (at least for those between Reception and Year 11), the overall experience of reading each consultation is that being granted travel for your child will be far less likely if these proposals go ahead.

Section 20.1 (part i) in the main consultation about provision of transport for children aged 5-16 seems to make it perfectly possible for any family to make the case for needing transport for their child to attend a special school, and that this might be streamlined by having that need set out in the EHCP. Possibly this could even mean that the multiple assessment teams referred to within the consultation may not even have to be called on in these cases (those being the Supported Transport Service, School Admissions Team, Traffic and Road Safety Team and the SEND ServicesTeam).

However, the ultimate control over the writing of the EHCP lies with officers of the council itself. Currently the council has been heavily criticised by Ofsted for the poor quality of the EHCPs and how it is taking far longer than is acceptable to produce them. The council has of course produced an action plan to address this and other issues that were raised, but this action plan does not refer to the proposal to begin to treat the EHCP as the vehicle for explaining the case for provision of transport for the child and for stating what will be put in place or who it will be funded by. It is self-evident that parents will be clamouring to have their child’s EHCP amended to include the need for transport. This consultation proposal is going to make it extremely challenging for the council to make good on this aspect of the Ofsted action plan, and will at the same time place great strain on schools, which have become the backbone of the EHCP system despite the government’s intention that an EHCP is result of integrated multi-agency work.

The consultation proposals raise several questions about the assessment process for eligibility regarding travel and with regard to how this will be captured in the EHCP. It does not explain what qualifications, knowledge and experience there will be of the range of needs of children who have EHCPs or SEND in general within the various assessment teams, nor of any ongoing programme of training and frequency of refreshing knowledge, moderation processes between the teams and individuals and other such considerations. Also of concern is that fact that the officers of the council who hold the responsibility for issuing the EHCPs are also highly likely to be tasked with controlling the costs of transport and seeking to reduce the provision. This is not compatible with the legal requirements of constructing an EHCP.

Special schools are not local schools, they have been established to make the most efficient use of specialist staff and resources. In the case of the four SEMH settings the council chose to centre them in or around Oxford to cater for the specific needs of certain children across the entire county. Many children attending special schools have siblings who need to get to their local mainstream school at the same times at the start and end of the day. As parents cannot be in two places at the same time there is a real risk of pushing either mainstream siblings or the children attending special schools into reduced-timetable arrangements that deny them their proper entitlement to full education and which can be predicted to impair their outcomes.

For those families where both parents are still together it could be argued that they could split the task of assisting different children to reach different schools, but this could be easily seen to make it virtually impossible for even one of those parents to hold down a job, something which I’m sure the consultation proposals are not meant to lead to. It is also important to recognise that the number of breakdowns in relationships amongst parents of children with SEND is reported to be higher than where there is not a child with SEND in the family. This puts an even higher pressure on the single parent to try and find some kind of work to support the family while coping with the widely spoken about yet rarely understood challenge of raising a child with special needs or a disability.

If the council had chosen to staff and resource every local mainstream school to the standard necessary to achieve what can be provided for in its special schools then it would be reasonable to expect many more families to get their child with SEND to their local school, possibly with a sibling at the same school, but that has not been the course followed. The consequence of providing specialist settings has to be that there will be many instances of families needing support with getting their child to that setting. While pressures of cost must be considered, it is not acceptable to organise this type of segregated provision, assess and agree on places at such settings for individual children, and to then abandon any responsibility for helping the family of that child to get them to and from the school they are deemed to need in order to benefit from it.

These issues have a direct bearing on the proposals of the two consultations to restrict any provision that does go ahead to the narrow confines of how one aspect of legislation defines statutory school age as being between the ages of Reception and Year 11. The Children and Families Act of 2014 introduced the EHCP process to replace Statements of Special Educational Need and very clearly addresses the needs of children with SEND between birth and 25 years old. Other directives from the government have moved well beyond the outdated sense of 16 years old being the cut-off point after which children can be expected to just leave the world of education. Raising the Participation Age aims that all young people are involved in some form of learning up until the age of 18, and that if they go to work at 16 their education should still continue alongside work (for example an apprenticeship). The Children and Families Act of 2014 made it very clear that for young people with SEND we should from the outset be accommodating a different rate of progress than that expected of their non-SEND peers, and so to assume that these children do not have ongoing needs for continued education beyond 16 would be wrong. Indeed, this very council recognised in 2007 that there was a pressing need to actually create special school based post-16 provision across the county and so created the widely welcomed 16-19 units at nearly every special school.

Taking this national picture of provision from 0-25 for children with an EHCP and the council’s own commitment to developing 16-19 bases at special schools it is clear that it would be very short-sighted to make places available at the specialised settings yet refuse to include support where needed for families trying to get their child to these schools. Children aged between 2-5 years old who have been recognised as having levels of SEND such that they need a place at a special school can make huge progress through attending those schools, and their lifelong outcomes will be greatly improved by doing so. Equally, at the other end of the schools’ provision, those students continuing to benefit from school places from 16-19 can still make enormous progress over those three years and their experiences as adults can be transformed by this period of their education. In a county which Ofsted believes does not deliver good enough outcomes for its children with SEND and with EHCPs, the total educational journey from 0-25 matters, and the stage between 2-19 is very easily provided for as the special schools already exist that can meet those needs (although we all recognise that even more special schools and places are needed).

Any policy that ignores the council’s high level aspirations for its vulnerable learners and that makes it all but impossible for a parent or family to get their child to school in those early years or in the post-16 settings is misguided and demonstrates a lack of joined-up thinking. Instead of this, a proposal could be to support special schools in applying for bursaries that can be used to fund transport for post-16 students with EHCPs, another could be to put travel assessment staff to work with families of nursery aged children with EHCPs to explore ways of making best use of limited finance; not using the assessment teams as gatekeepers but rather as facilitators.

I am also very concerned that for the sake of simplifying systems and making theoretical savings by restricting home-to-school transport to one main address the proposals are at risk of going against equality legislation by unfairly putting children with SEND at a disadvantage as they are more likely to have parents who have split up under the pressure of coping with the child’s special needs or disability. This proposal would force separated parents to agree on one single address for the whole school week all year and in doing so would deny access for children attending special schools to the shared parental care that they need to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents. It is exactly the sort of thing that families will fight to get written into the EHCP for 5-16 year olds and which in effect will negate the proposal for most of these children for most of their time in schools, and which ought to be dropped so that it can actually work from 2-19 for those specific families where it might actually be required.

In a similar vein, we can confidently expect families to insist on recognising the needs of their child to be supported in having a modest social life outside of school and to ensure that this is written into their EHCP, including being provided with transport to access this extracurricular setting. There would be very few families of children under the age of 5 seeking this kind of provision of transport, and depending on the range of clubs and activities available there would very probably be a tapering off as children reach 16+ as well.

As such it seems likely that those aged 5-16 would push the case for it to be written into the EHCP, and the benefit of saving money by refusing it to those aged 2-5 or 16-19 would be so minimal that it would achieve virtually nothing while costing a lot in terms of social opportunities for young people with special needs and disabilities who face far more challenges than their mainstream peers in building up social relationships and making constructive use of their out of school time.

Finally, while it might seem perverse to have argued against so many proposals of the consultations to then end on one that I would support, I would like to expand on the thinking regarding sanctioning all of the home-to-school transport necessary for young people with the levels of SEND that require them to attend residential schools. The proposed policy aims to pay for transport (often very long distances) for children to get to and from residential schools each week or term as necessary, and even to pay for their family to visit the schools for various meetings and reviews. It is frequently the case that the families of the children who attend these residential schools have not simply been granted the place with no discussion, but have had to argue the case for their child’s needs and sometimes to do so by going to a Tribunal. In many cases the families are successful through being articulate and having the resources (both mentally and financially) to challenge the position of the local authority. It could be said that a policy which by default allows free transport for the children and families of those with EHCPs who are capable of going head-to-head with the local authority via Tribunals and similar actively discriminates against parents who have their own learning difficulties, or may not have the social skills and experience to feel able to engage in this way.

It would seem to be to be more inclusive and more in keeping with the vision of the council and our local authority to see the defining triggers to a default provision of transport support being the presence of an EHCP itself coupled with that child attending a special school, be that a maintained or non-maintained one. Thus the principles which underpin the proposal to automatically provide funded transport for children needing to attend distant residential special schools, could be drawn wider to encompass attending any special school and would thus avoid possible accusations of social or intellectual discrimination. It would still be possible and desirable to hold expectations that families are supported to take on the responsibility of paying towards the transport where they can, and to work towards enabling the young person to travel independently if and when that can be achieved. The difference would be that instead of setting up conflict and stress for families already struggling to cope with the needs of their child, assessment services would in the case of children attending special schools work proactively with each family to explore what scope there might be to reduce transport costs, accepting that in many cases it may not be possible at that moment in time.

Alternative Proposal

All children aged between 2-19 are deemed eligible for transport if they have an EHCP issued or in progress, and if they attend a special school, including residential special schools.

A system is established using appropriately qualified and experienced members of assessment teams to positively support families in moving their children out of council provided transport where possible with a partnership between the assessors, the family and the school to actively explore what could be done to reduce costs of transport provision and support increased independence of the young person, but against the backdrop of knowing that transport will be provided if this is not agreed to be possible.

Sean O’Sullivan

Headteacher, Frank Wise School