Birminghams new school transport policy - are you getting what you are entitled to?
In January 2013, a new Local Authority (LA) transport policy for home to school transport was approved by the Cabinet. These changes were for those starting school or post 16 education on or after September 2013 only.
Birmingham LA now wishes to apply this new policy to all current service users from September 2013.
Faced by further cuts to the LA budget, Birmingham's intention is to reduce the overall cost of home to school transport by limiting the number of pupils who get funding or support for transport.
According to the Birmingham LA website, the following key changes are being made.
1. The introduction of Personal Transport Budgets for parents and carers and access to independent travel training for identified children and young people
Parents and carers can choose to have a personal transport budget (sometimes called direct payments) so that they can arrange transport themselves. Your child should also be able to get independent travel training when appropriate. However, these options cannot be forced upon your child or you. If you do not agree then they should provide an alternative form of assistance.
The LA may say that they are fulfilling their duty by offering you a budget which is inadequate or claiming that your child is capable of travelling independently following independent travel training without taking their needs and the risks this may present into consideration.
Therefore, any budget must be sufficient to cover costs. So if you agree to drive your child to school, you must be reimbursed for all costs including petrol, insurance, wear and tear, road tax, etc.
2. The adoption of the statutory qualifying distances up to 8 years old 2 miles, over 8 years old 3 miles
These are provisions set out in the Education Act 1996 and remain in place. The LA must also continue to provide travel assistance for all the other categories of children who are described as eligible for free transport including any child who needs the transport because of SENs or a disability.
3. The removal of transport support based on parental choice of denominational school
If your child is entitled to free school meals, or your family is receiving full working tax credit, you and your child have additional rights when choosing a school based on your religion or belief, or even that fact that you do not want a religious education for your child. If the school you have chosen on this basis is between 2 and 15 miles away, and there is no nearer suitable school which fits the same criteria on religion and belief, they remain eligible for school transport.
4. Increased coordination via SENAR of the assessment and review of SEN pupils receiving specialist transport support to identify changes in circumstances
The LA is required to review the transport assistance it provides for your child to ensure it remains appropriate and suitable.
Reviews are normally carried out on an annual basis and you can ask for an earlier review if there has been a change in needs or circumstances. Reviews should be carried out in a timely way and all those involved in your child's care, including yourself and the school, should be fully involved and consulted. Your views should be taken into consideration and you should be given sufficient opportunity to challenge any proposed changes.
5. Transport assistance for SEN pupils will only be considered to the nearest appropriate school as identified by the LA - parental choice of a more distant school will not be supported
The LA is legally obliged to provide transport assistance to the school named in your child's statement. If the LA has named that school as the parental preference and on the basis that the parents have agreed to arrange transport, this must be clearly stated in part 4 of the statement when issued.
Parents and carers would be well advised not to agree to school being named on this basis without careful consideration of their options to include an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
The LA cannot lawfully refuse travel assistance to the school named in the statement on grounds that the pupil could attend a nearer school if this wasn't made clear when the statement was issued.
What affect will Birmingham's transport policy have on my child?
The LA must look at the individual circumstances of each child to decide whether they are eligible for free transport assistance when assessing what is suitable. The LA should consider all of the law in the Education Acts together with the Department for Education guidance from 2007 and the LA's own transport policy.
For new starters this will now be the latest transport policy issued in January 2013. For current users it will continue to be the old transport policy until the current consultation has concluded and a decision has been made in regards to the application of the new policy to current users.
What can I do if I don't agree with Birmingham LA's decision?
Current experience and evidence from parents suggests that Birmingham LA is refusing travel assistance to children who should be eligible. Where they consider a child is eligible, they are offering travel passes, rather than a shared taxi or school bus.
They are also making assumptions that parents will transport or escort a child if they attend a special school.
Sometimes the LA presumes that the child will be able to travel independently by public transport. However, children with certain special needs can find travelling to school by public transport very stressful. There will also be children who are unable to get to school because of their disability unless transport is provided.
Whether these decisions are lawful or not, will need to be assessed on a case by case basis.
If you feel that your child has been wrongly refused travel assistance or offered unsuitable travel assistance, then you should follow the LA's transport appeal process.
Appeals should be made within 15 working days of you receiving the decision. The appeal should be made in writing on the form provided with the decision letter or by letter.
If you are dissatisfied by the outcome of the appeals process then you should seek specialist legal assistance regarding a potential judicial review.
How can Simpson Millar help us?
At Simpson Millar, we have already been consulted on the problems this change of policy may be causing to parents and are able to help parents both with transport appeals to the LA and any judicial review. We are able to get legal aid funding for support in suitable cases.
In addition, we recently succeeded in forcing the Department for Education to withdraw its own proposed transport guidance as it failed to comply with the law as set out in statute. Read more
. It's a complicated area of law and one where parents and LAs alike can lose sight of the legal obligations. If you have any concerns about the way it is affecting you and your child give us a ring on 0345 357 9850. We have an office in Birmingham and are able to bring local knowledge to the problem as well as nationally recognised expertise.