DfE backtracks on transport policy for disabled children
Simpson Millar has assisted IPSEA (Independent Parental Special Education Advice) in securing a significant concession from the Department for Education regarding the revised Home to School Transport Statutory Guidance it recently issued - resulting in significant benefits for families with children with disabilities and special educational needs.
In March 2013 the DfE issued revised transport Statutory Guidance. Despite specifically being required under the Education Act 1996 to consult with appropriate people on any new Statutory Guidance they failed to do so. In particular, this new version mentioned only in passing the responsibilities of local authorities to provide transport for children with disabilities and special educational needs. The previous version of the Statutory Guidance had set out this responsibility in some detail and with clarity.
The new Guidance also omitted helpful detail as to, for example, the duty to make suitable transport arrangements which minimise stress and discomfort for disabled children.
The issue of school transport is a particularly important one for children with SEN and disabilities: Their difficulties frequently mean that they are unable to walk or use public transport independently. Many such children are placed in the nearest suitable school which are some distance from their homes and they cannot easily be transported along with their siblings.
Although the Secretary of State has a statutory duty to consult before issuing new guidance, in this instance the only consultation which took place was with a working group comprising four local authority practitioners and two Department of Transport road safety policy officials. No attempt was made to consult charities such as IPSEA which advises parents of children with special educational needs or other organisations representing disabled children.
With the generous support of Simpson Millar and David Wolfe QC from Matrix Chamber IPSEA launched judicial review proceedings that the Department for Education agreed to withdraw the new guidance and to reinstate the previous version. It has also stressed any new guidance will be issued only following a full and proper consultation with all those likely to be affected.
One of our top solicitors said: "This is a significant victory on behalf of children with SEN and disabilities who may be unable to get to school unless they receive the transport help to which they are entitled.""We have noticed a significant change since March in the approach taken by local authorities to their transport duties, resulting in considerable stress to families who already have more than enough to cope with. The new transport guidance would not have assisted in the government's objective of cutting down red tape and was likely simply to result in unnecessary litigation.""We were delighted to be able to assist IPSEA in securing this very satisfactory outcome."