Transport Review For Disabled Children In Bury Causes Concern From Parents
The Law Of... ensuring local authorities fulfil their responsibilitiesBury Council have caused concern amongst parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), after they announced that they will be changing their school transport policy.
At a cabinet meeting at Bury Town Hall, councillors announced that changes are required to bring the local policy up to date and ensure that they do not overspend on their budget.
Responding to the policy changes, our Diane Hill advises that local councils cannot take certain entitlements away from parents of children with SEND.
Transport Policy Change
Currently Bury Council spends £1,289,000 a year helping disabled children get to and from school.
The Children and Families Act 2014 meant that the council's school transport policy was out of date, which caused councillors to introduce a change in policy.
The cabinet's policy has been met with concern from parents of disabled children however, as they are concerned that their access to free transport for their children could be restricted.
It is alleged that the concerns from parents caused the cabinet to delay their policy announcement, as they deferred the matter for a month so that they can receive consultations from parents.
Councillors claim that the policy changes will give parents greater flexibility and that the new policy is necessary to ensure that they do not overspend their budget.
As reported by the Bury Times
, many parents who attended the cabinet meeting at Bury Town Hall raised concerns that they could end up footing the bill for transport, which was previously provided for free.
Under old rules, disabled children in respite care would receive free transport automatically; however this provision could now depend on a council review of a child's needs.
The council's report on the policy change outlines the full details of the change
, with parents likely concerned by points that outline that the majority of parents of children with SEND are expected to arrange their own travel, with travel arrangements really only available to those the council adjudge to have complex needs.
Local Authority Responsibility
For parents of children with SEND in Bury, there is a chance to challenge the new policy from the council, as the Local Authority (LA) has a duty of care to children with SEND and they are responsible for ensuring that they can access education.
As Diane explains, the council's policy changes could contradict other laws and statutes in place to ensure every child receives the same education:"The Local Authority must provide school transport if your child is of compulsory school age and is attending the school named in their statement or education, health and care plan and it is more than the statutory walking distance away or your child cannot walk there by themselves.""Free transport must be provided in these instances unless the Local Authority considered that a closer school was suitable and agreed to name your choice of school ‘on parental preference'.""LAs cannot assume that if parents have a car, they will take the child to school and cannot take into account the fact that the child has a mobility allowance or a Motability car, however you can voluntarily drive your child to school on the basis that your travel costs will be refunded.""Bury, Oldham and Rochdale Councils are not the first Councils to attempt to amend their home-school transport policy with potentially detrimental effects for children, young people and parents. Solicitors at our firm worked with parents affected by a similar change to the school transport policy in Birmingham and at the same time worked closely with IPSEA to force the Department for Education to withdraw its own proposed transport guidance, as it failed to comply with the law as set out in another statute.""Specialist education lawyers are able to help parents with transport appeals to the LA or with a judicial review of a transport decision that affects their child or a young person in their care.""In situations where implementing a policy would lead to, or which permits or encourages, unlawful conduct, it is possible to ask for permission for a judicial review of the policy. If successful, this could have benefits for all parents of children and young people in Bury who would be affected by the amendments. We are able to get legal aid funding for support in suitable cases, meaning parents may not have to foot the bill for their legal challenge."