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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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!