SEND Transport: Consultation and Missed opportunities

SEND Transport: Consultation and Missed opportunities

You may have seen recently that the government launched a consultation into revised statutory guidance for local authorities on home to school travel and transport. This covers all children, but we're of course only looking at the implications for young people with SEND. It closes on October 31st

Initially, the wording was unclear, so I got in touch with the DfE to check if it included post-16, but no, it's compulsory school years only - that's up to the end of year 11. The information on the website is now much clearer (Apologies, I meant to write this post immediately I got the information but, life, etc)

I checked because there has been a lot of recent issues for young people 16-25 getting transport to their educational placement, so you would think this would be an ideal opportunity to gather views and clarify the guidance for this section of the SEND community. 

“I can confirm that the version of the guidance we are currently consulting on does not cover travel for young people aged 16-25, and only those children of statutory school age. This is due to the differences in legislative duties that there is currently no opportunity to revise. We are however, aware of the challenges that parents of young people with EHCPs are facing in acquiring support for travel, and continue to work with the post-16 participation and travel team, along with... wider teams involved with policy relating to Special Educational Needs. We also continue to engage with charitable organisations, such as Contact and Cerebra, who champion the rights of children with special educational needs and supporting their families."

Any Drew, Department for Education

The current consultation

Transport has been a focus of campaigning for the disabled children’s charity, Contact, which ran its own inquiry into home to school transport a couple of years ago. Among its findings was that 51% of local school transport policies in England included unlawful statements, such as needing an EHCP to be eligible for free school transport, or stating that children with the high-rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) must use this to fund school transport. 

If you want to feed back to the current consultation on transport for compulsory school-age children, you can do so here

The 16-25 year old problem for SEND transport

There is no automatic entitlement to free transport for those of sixth-form age (young people in years 12 & 13) but LAs have a ‘discretion’ to assist with transport arrangements. They are expected to target support towards SEND students (and other circumstances). But they don't have to do it without charge. Guidance says that transport should enable a young person to reach their place of education or training without such stress, strain or difficulty that would prevent them from benefiting from the education provided.

In recent months, an increasing number of local authorities have been changing their transport policies, to charge families for all or some of the cost of transporting disabled young people over 16 to school or college. While some students can use a discounted college bus or similar (still pricy), for many of those with disabilities who need taxis or escorts this can be a hefty contribution.

It means parents are having to find hundreds, or even thousands of pounds, just so that their young adult children can access the same educational opportunities that everyone else can. If you have more than one 16+ disabled child, that will be double or triple the cost. For many families, this is just not possible.

LAs are also putting “independent travel training” into place. This is aimed at helping disabled teenagers and young people learn to use public transport by themselves, thus saving the LA the need and cost of taking them. While in some cases, this can work well, for many others, is it impractical or even dangerous. Public transport may not be available or involve more than one change. And what happens if they get stranded in the middle of nowhere on a wet, dark, winter evening? Or even worse?

A missed opportunity

In my opinion, excluding 16-25 SEND transport from this consultation is a huge missed opportunity. It could have been an ideal chance to fix the paradox of giving education rights to this group, but no support to get them there, created by the 2014 SEND legislative changes (I can hardly call them reforms at this point in time). 

Ideally, all young people would live a convenient distance from a fabulous specialist college but they don’t, nor are they likely to in the near future. And as the government has cut funding to the bone and beyond, they’ve ensured LAs won’t—or can’t—help get them to the nearest suitable provision. 

There has been a rise in the number of specialist independent colleges in recent years. The transport problem may mean more young people end up in specialist residential provision, which LAs will then be expected to fund, as the only way to meet obligations for young people with EHCPs to continue in education or training. 

What does the current legislation say?

As mentioned, the legislation gives LAs the discretion to decide what travel support is necessary for attendance. Failing to ensure travel arrangements specified in a transport policy statement are made amounts to a failure to fully meet the duty. The current guidance from January 2019 for this can be found here

The LA’s duty regarding transport for ‘adult learners’ - usually those who start a course aged 19+, is covered by s.508F of the Education Act 1996. IPSEA says:

“For adult learners, the LA must make “such arrangements for the provision of transport, as they consider necessary” and must do so for the purpose of facilitating the attendance of adults receiving education at institutions—

(a) maintained or assisted by the authority and providing further or higher education (or both), or

(b) within the further education sector.

Any transport arrangements provided under this duty must be free of charge.


If a specific educational provision is named in a young person’s EHC Plan, but they can’t get there without travel support, they could have a strong argument that travel arrangements are ‘necessary’.  Even if they don’t think it’s “necessary”, IPSEA says, “the LA has a residual discretion to pay some or all of the reasonable costs of transport if no other arrangement has been arranged (s.508F(8)) and they must exercise their judgment “judiciously and in good faith." (see Staffordshire CC v JM). (link at end)

If your LA has changed its policy to start charging or asking for a contribution, you should find out whether it consulted before introducing them. There MAY be an opportunity for legal action for local parents into this, but you would need to get solid legal advice about the possibility. Hampshire parents recently had a victory about changes to Post-16 transport after threats of legal action, and perhaps it’s something more parents should consider locally as well.

Other sources of funding for transport

Of course, once a young person hits 18, parents are no longer obliged to pay or do anything for them in law - they are classed as adults. In reality, few families are going to take that view - parents of disabled young people have spent years advocating for their children’s rights and they’re not going to wash their hands of them just because they’ve become an “adult”. 

Many, though far from all, disabled young people receive Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This is expected to fund the additional costs that come with being disabled. However, children with Disabled Living Allowance aren't legally expected to use the mobility component to fund school transport, so it's hardly fair that over 16s should.

If they were working, they would be able to apply for Access to Work to help with travel and for higher education students, the Disabled Students' Allowance may cover it, so this definitely seems like a disparity (though I'm not a lawyer).

After 18, they also become eligible for adult social care funding. This could include an amount for travel. Additionally, a young person may be eligible for benefits such as new-style Employment & Support Allowance) if they are a student and disabled. Check this benefits calculator.

None of these are a walk in the park to get hold of, and the introduction of PIP has unfairly torn the enhanced rate of mobility (and access to Motability) away from thousands of people. There may also be charities that can help, perhaps by providing volunteer drivers. The college may also be able to offer discretionary funding for transport.

What can you do?

In SEND, as it is across local and, ever increasingly, national government, and even in NHS institutions, it seems that the written law is no barrier to doing what the bloody hell those in power want to do. It is unfair that parents and young people have to force these publicly-funded bodies to do what they are supposed to do, but this is, unfortunately, the world we live in. 

I have seen time and again how public body ‘consultations’ are nothing more than lip service. They seek opinions and do what they wanted to all along. Sadly, it seems the only way to bring people in power to the table is by legal action. 

Use sites such as IPSEA, SOSSEN and SENTAS for information about transport (links at the end) and the benefits calculator as mentioned above to find financial help. Complain to your council leaders, and your MP if you think that will do any good. 

Finally, if you can, if you have the energy, read up on the law or seek advice on how to respond. Start a local group (outside of a PCF which have restrictions on campaigning placed on them) and work together to fight unfair local changes. 

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Tania Tirraoro

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