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School transport policy changes causing upheaval for increasing numbers of children, according to LGO

Changes to councils’ transport policies are having an increasing effect on children trying to get to school, according to a report released by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

The Ombudsman is upholding more complaints from parents and carers who need to find alternative ways to get their children to school when councils change their policies, or the way they apply them.

In 2015/16 the LGO received 261 complaints and enquiries about school transport compared with just 160 in the previous year.

In one case, a teenager with autism was affected when the council changed the way it applied its transport policy, and stopped providing him with a taxi to school.

His family were told he should get to school using a route which involved walking for a mile down an often unlit area with no footpath, catching a train and then getting a bus.  This, despite the fact the boy’s conditions means he has a significantly reduced awareness of danger and a problem with loud noises.

In another case, a mum appealed against the council’s decision to refuse free school transport for her youngest daughter to travel to the school her sisters attended. Despite providing the appeal panel with information about the family’s personal and financial circumstances, the panel decided not to provide free transport. However, the Ombudsman found no evidence the panel had even looked at whether there were any exceptional circumstances so they could consider exercising discretion in this case.

Local Government Ombudsman, Michael King, said:

“When looking at school transport awards, councils must ensure decisions are made fairly, legally and transparently. Failing to do this can cause confusion, financial hardship and have a significant impact on some of the most vulnerable families, particularly those who have children with special educational needs.

“While I appreciate the financial strain councils are under, parents and carers can only have trust in their council’s decision making if they are kept properly informed throughout the process, and told clearly the reasons for any decisions made.”

The report offers advice and guidance both for parents and councils on the school transport decision making process.  It also offers advice on ways local councillors can scrutinise their own processes to ensure their policies are open and accountable.

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