The Saga of SEN Transport

SEN Transport - the very words send a shiver down many a parent’s spine; this aspect of the Jungle can keep parents awake at night.

Is my child eligible? How do they measure the distance to the school? Are the drivers trained? Will my child get an escort? Will they know what to do if my child has a seizure? The list is endless.

As a mum to three children who use transport, I know just how much of a nightmare it can be.  I also know that when it is delivered well, what an amazing difference it makes to families.

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The negative experiences:

  • We have had taxis turn up late - because the escort got stuck at the hairdressers
  • We have had taxis turn up late - because the driver had pulled an all-nighter on an airport run
  • We have had taxis not use booster seats - for a 4 year old child - on a busy motorway
  • We have had non-English speaking escorts - for a child with communication needs - for an hour long journey
  • We have had taxis arrive with no knowledge whatsoever of my child’s needs.  One lovely lady had planned a really great “spot the landmark” game to help the journey pass - for my blind son.  No one had thought to mention this when the tender went out.

The list is endless and this is just the actual transport providers.  If I had to write a list on the negative experiences from a local authority point of view, it would probably become a rant rather than an informative post.

The customer service from our SEN Transport team here in Kent has in the past been - well words fail me.

School bus

The positive experiences:

  • A driver making contact as soon as he received the contract to come and meet us before the transport started; turning up with photos of his car, contact details, etc.  (this was not compulsory but purely because he "got" this and knew it would be easier for all)
  • A driver providing us with a One Page Profile - this was possibly my number one favourite
  • A driver who insists on taking the kids to a fast food chain on the last day of term, along with his wife and grandchildren
  • An escort who is happy to liaise with the school
  • An escort who happily collects a child from the door rather than parking 100m down the road.  This may sound like asking for too much but when your other children have SEN or are young, having to leave them to escort your other child to the car can be a recipe for disaster.

All of these are above and beyond their duties, (although the Guidance does recommend that drivers meet the family) but it is because they are human that it works.  They empathise with our family but more importantly, they actually genuinely like children.

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So, is there any guidance for the Local Authority, like a Code of Practice?

Yes, there is.  It is the Guidance on Home to School Travel and Transport.  There is a lot of "should" rather than must in there (a bit like the new draft Code of Practice) but there are some very clear guidelines on transport for children with SEN.

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Which children are eligible for Transport?

Children who attend schools beyond the statutory walking distance

  • The statutory walking distance is 2 miles for children under 8 years old and 3 miles for children of 8 or over.
  • The measurement of the “statutory walking distance” is not necessarily the shortest distance by road. It is measured by the shortest route along which a child, accompanied as necessary, may walk with reasonable safety. As such, the route measured may include footpaths, bridleways, and other pathways, as well as recognised roads.

Children with SEN, disabilities or mobility problem

  • Some children with SEN and/or a disability may, by reason of their SEN and/or disability, be unable to walk even relatively short distances to school.
  • This means that local authorities must make suitable travel arrangements for children with SEN, a disability, or mobility problem if their SEN, disability, or mobility problem means that they could not reasonably be expected to walk to the school 

Children whose route to school is unsafe

  • In assessing the comparative safety of a route, a local authority should conduct an assessment of the risks a child might encounter along the prescribed route (including, for example, canals, rivers, ditches, speed of traffic along roads, overhanging trees or branches that might obscure fields of vision for the pedestrian or motorist, etc.).
  • The assessment of a route should take place at the times of the day that pupils would be expected to use the route.

There are other categories of children (those with parents on low income, etc) and their details can be found in the Guidance.

My personal favourite part of the guidance is section 52:

  1. For a local authority to meet the requirements of this duty, travel arrangements must be “suitable”. The suitability of arrangements will depend on a number of factors. Best practice has shown that for local authorities to consider travel arrangements to be suitable, they must enable an eligible child to reach school without such stress, strain, or difficulty that they would be prevented from benefiting from the education provided. For arrangements to be ‘suitable’, they must also allow the child to travel in reasonable safety, and in reasonable comfort.

If only best practice was compulsory rather than a recommendation, life would be so much better for all concerned.

Where can you go to for more advice and information?  

  • IPSEA (I don't know where I'd be without them) have provided a checklist for parents and also an overview of the Guidance in language we can relate to.
  • You can also ask us questions via the comments.

We'd love to hear about your experiences: Ready, steady, RANT!

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Debs Aspland

Exec Director at Bringing Us Together
Mum of 3, wife of 1, Exec Director of Bringing Us Together, Owner of Inspiring Circles, Writer of Chaos in Kent, Development - South at Community Circles
Debs Aspland
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18 Comments

  1. Very helpful post. Our experience so far of transport has been very positive – drivers and escorts great.

    It just struck me reading the guidelines that the three mile limit for children over 8 is bit steep. I know many parents would drive their kids to school if it was three miles away, or use the bus or bike, but some can’t do that. I do a lot of walking, but feel pretty tired after walking for an hour. Just picturing trying to teach an 8 year-old who’d just done this in the pouring rain. And if you had to walk to and from school with your kid, you’d be doing 12 miles, taking 4 hours, a day. Wonder how this rule came into being.

    1. Debs Aspland

      Hi

      It is nice to hear of positive experiences. Some of our drivers and escorts have been amazing and made the whole idea of having to put my most precious things in a car without me for a long journey.

      I don’t know how the distance limits were produced but I can see your point – and let’ be honest, do you know any children who walk briskly without being distracted? That hour suddenly becomes quite a bit longer!

      Debs

  2. Mumtomany

    Transport has caused us nothing but problems, taxis turning up late, drivers speeding, taking my child to the wrong location, being verbally abusive and allowing him to get out of the car into a busy main road. Transport department, funnily enough also from Kent, are trying very hard to ignore the problem despite emails quoting good practice.

  3. mandy

    I feel and share your frustrations with regard to getting a suitable service for SEN transport.
    We had one brilliant family run service provider for 10 years , it was bliss knowing your children are safe and happy on the way t school every day. Then chaos , turmoil, heartbreak and neglect when the wonderful family business lost the contract. This new service provider was a disaster, children couldn’t cope with the new change, meaning they had be escorted to school separately by taxi, children start refusing to. GO to school, the usually happy children became quieter and not their former self…the atmosphere on transport changed, wasn’t .met by children laughing every morning , but by a quiet sad bus full of children who seemed to have been stripped of their personalities. One of my daughter’s was offered a new bus with an escort who had no experience of my daughters medical needs…or even any turning r interest in using .makaton. my daughter was 18 ,completely non verbal yet the escort asks why should she need to train in makaton as the bus ride only three miles..what could my daughter have to say in three miles that couldn’t wait until she got to school. That was the day we removed our daughter from school.
    This was Kent SEN transport .

  4. Benedicte Symcox

    I’m going to start with a “happy”! Two of my children use transport. The third is at residential school and I’ve chosen not to involve the transport team for him. The local authority’s input? Not so good. They gave the wrong information about one child to the transport team, and both companies were told they had to transport my children the day before school was due to start – not great for one who is autistic, or the other who uses a wheelchair.
    But… both companies have been wonderful. I have good contact details and any phone calls are friendly and polite. They have shown wonderful understanding of the children’s needs, and realise that it sometimes takes quite a while to get into a car – and that this is not due to “bad behaviour”.
    As for me… my life is utterly transformed due to the children being in the right school, but greatly thanks to transport. They are both 30 minutes away in different directions, and if I were to have to transport them, I could never get them to school on time, and I would spend my life in a car.
    Thank you tranport!

    1. Debs Aspland

      Hi Benedicte

      It makes such a difference doesn’t it when it is done right? The right school with the right transport is something that we all aim for so I am pleased that you have got there. However, it was interesting to read the issues you had with poor communication and input from your local authority. From the comments we are getting here (and on social media), it appears that the biggest issues are around the local authority’s practice rather than the transport providers.

      Thanks for commenting, and enjoy your transformed life!

      Debs

  5. Nicky

    Where to start… The drivers are, on the whole, lovely but the staff in the office just don’t seem to get it. My son finishes school earlier on a Friday than every other day of the week and the taxi company has forgotten this at least 5 times last term and yet again on the first Friday back this term. My son then sits for an extra half an hour to an hour until he is collected, when he could be home relaxing. I called to inform them that my son would be off school from a certain date but to PLEASE ensure the taxi came up until that date. The day before he was due to stop, the taxi failed to turn up as they had put the wrong date in! We have had late taxis due to over runs on the jobs before my son’s pick up. Drivers who don’t know where my son’s school is so they get lost and ask him for directions! It seems endless and this is in less than a term and a half of us actually having transport. I am extremely grateful that we get the transport as I wouldn’t be able to do drop off/pick up for both children, but it is sad that the company aren’t particularly helpful. I have phoned the LA’s Transport three times and they seem responsive, but if it continues, my husband and I want to book our own cars and charge it back to the council.

  6. vaguest

    After initially being informed my son would get fortnightly transport to his new residential placement, it was suddenly withdrawn with no notice whatsoever to only the beginning and end of each half term. Thankfully the taxi company told me or my son would have been left abandoned at school on a Friday evening (although school is geared up for weekends and could have kept him, can you imagine the distress and potential repercussions in a new placement for an autistic child?) The LA certainly didn’t have the courtesy to let me know.

    Due to the oddities of the carer’s allowance rules, I had to make arrangements for him to come home every weekend, and it soon became clear that this was suiting him much better as he was able to attend all of his lessons every week instead of being so crippled by homesickness that his education in the second week was minimal.

    Meanwhile, as I was still in touch with the solicitor I had used to the secure the placement, she helped to guide me through the laughable “appeal” process at the LA, which basically involved the same person making the same decision 3 times…and then we were able to take the case to Judicial Review, at which point weekly transport was agreed. Obviously the LA involved did not want a ruling which could be used as precedent for others. It is a pity, because my solicitor and barrister were very confident that it would be ruled in our favour and then it would have become case law, thus helping others.

    Of course the important thing was that we got the transport agreed for my son, because frankly the driving was killing me, (it’s a 130 mile round trip, every Friday and Sunday, with 2 younger siblings in the car to boot), seriously causing family issues, financial issues, the works. But it would have been inconceivable to leave my son, who was already struggling with fortnightly weekends home, for 7 or 8 weeks at a time. I would have had to continue until I was literally on my knees, at which point the placement would have become untenable in any case, given the LA’s reluctance to suitably transport my son.

    So suitability can also refer to the frequency of the transport in the case of residential placements. The taxi company are fantastic, though. One new driver was turning up a few minutes early, which was totally throwing my son, he really couldn’t cope. I explained that if she was early it really made him panic that he wasn’t ready, even if he was, and she hasn’t been early since. Brilliant, couldn’t ask for better understanding.

  7. Graham Manfield

    We have only used home to school transport since September last year when our profoundly deaf daughter transferred to a secondary school with a deaf support centre six miles from our home. We asked for details of transport arrangements a year before as she finds change really difficult (as detailed in her SSEN). Despite repeating this many times, we discovered, two weeks before the start of term, that the council’s published policy had been amended FIVE years earlier and they hadn’t updated their website or shared this with parents. All of our careful preparation was rendered useless and the start of term was distressing for our daughter and stressful for all involved.

    Unbelievably, the council informed us that they don’t have time to take individual needs into account and seemed to have changed the policy without any consultation with parents. The council is to review transport provision and we’ve been promised an opportunity to inform this. It does illustrate, however, a worrying lack of understanding of the issues faced by disabled children and their carers.

  8. Alison Holgate

    We have had no alternative to move our son from a school which was not meeting his needs to another one which seems better suited. We have supplied evidence of the failure to the IDSS manager who refuses transport saying the school should be suitable . Err I knew that thanks – but it wasn’t !
    We are waiting for transport appeal on 16/06 and if that fails are waiting to go to tribunal – where I will have a wonderful time asking the manager to define ” suitable “

  9. Carolz Mack

    Hi, My
    little girl has been receiving home to school transport via the LA for the last
    17 months. When I first applied I went through all of her medical needs and
    initially transport was granted, with a last pick up at 08.35 (school
    starts @ 08.50) and a first drop off at15.25 (school finishes @ 15.10). Never
    once did the transport turn up at 08.35 (due to traffic conditions that time in
    the morning) and my other child who was 3 at the time was continually late for
    nursery. When I spoke to the SEN transport office and explained my little boy
    would be starting school last September at exactly the same time as his sister
    and couldn’t be late every day, they eventually (due to another issue with
    another child) changed the transport arrangements and my little girl has been
    first pick up at 07.30 and last drop off 16.15 since July last year. This has
    worked really well for us, as my little girl is always up first thing and likes
    being “on the move”. Unfortunately due to the escort having a period
    of sickness, it raised a few concerns with regards to the temporary escorts and
    their understanding of my little girl’s needs – amongst other things she is non
    verbal and has uncontrolled epilepsy. I contacted the SEN transport office and
    raised my queries with them and the resulting outcome is that they initially
    said they didn’t realise that she had epilepsy and now have decided that she needs
    to be picked up last 08.25 and dropped off first 15.25, as we live 3/4 of a
    mile from the school they are saying that is feasible for them to do. The issue
    that I have (eventually get there!) is that I cannot get my little boy to
    school the 3/4 of a mile in 20 minutes, or indeed home (which is up a steep
    hill) in 15 minutes. I have no family that can help, and no-one else to take him.
    I have pleaded every which way with them, and explained that I cannot
    physically be in 2 places at once, but to no avail. I have stated that when my
    little girl moves to her next school she will still have the same health
    conditions and will have to be transported for longer. Both schools have tried
    (to no avail) to negotiate with the transport office about how impratical the
    situation is, but they are not prepared to move or alter the times. Any
    suggestions of how I can resolve the issue, or indeed whether I would stand a
    chance of appealing?

  10. Graham Manfield

    My LA has revised their policy without any consultation notwithstanding a clear duty to do so incuded in the statutory guidance.Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) they also failed to apply it to this year’s application process so it restricts remedies (e.g. meaningful referral to the LGO). I also discovered some time ago that the training for drivers and escorts was not fit for purpose. Finally, the LA did not put anything in place to manage my daughter’s recent additional disability until I formally complained. I’m meeting with the strategic lead shortly. He seems willing to listen so perhaps some progress but I’m not holding my breath…

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