School/college transport FAQs

These FAQs are based on questions that parents frequently ask via IPSEA's helplines. If you find them helpful perhaps you could make a small donation to IPSEA via this link? There is a lot more information about Transport here.

1. My child has SEN but because we live within a 3 mile radius of school / college, we aren't eligible for transport are we?

Local Authorities (LAs) are required to provide free school transport for any child who is eligible. This may include children with SEN, disabilities or mobility problems which mean that the child cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school even if they live within statutory walking distance (2 miles for Primary School and 3 miles for Secondary School). Click here for more information about this common myth.

2. Whose duty is it to arrange home to school / college transport?

It is a duty on the LA in which you are ordinarily resident. LAs have a duty to make necessary travel arrangements for all 'eligible children’, attending “qualifying schools” and a discretion to make travel arrangements for other children in their area.

3. What is a qualifying school / college?

These are defined as:

  • maintained (publicly funded) schools,
  • non maintained special schools,
  • pupil referral units,
  • maintained nursery schools,
  • city technology colleges and academies
  • in the case of a child with a statement of special educational needs, an independent school if this is the only school or the nearest school named in Part 4 of the statement. (Para 15(3) Sched.35B)

Children who receive education somewhere other than at school (for example education at an alternative provision for children who are excluded or have medical needs which means they cannot attend school young people in Key Stage 4 attending further education colleges) can also qualify as eligible children.

4. Is my child an eligible child?

The following four categories of children are eligible:

1. Children who attend schools beyond the statutory walking distance

These children are eligible for free school transport, provided that the LA has made no "suitable arrangements" for boarding accommodation or attendance at a nearer school. This replicates the previous legal right to free home-school transport where children live beyond walking distance and attend their nearest suitable school. The statutory walking distance is 2 miles for children under 8 years old and 3 miles for children of 8 or over (see 'How is distance measured?').

2. Children with SEN, disabilities or mobility problems

The legislation requires the local authority to arrange free school transport for some groups of children who attend schools within statutory walking distance. The first is those with special educational needs, disability or mobility problems which mean that they cannot reasonably be expected to walk to their school and no suitable arrangements have been made by the LA to enable them to attend a nearer school.

3. Children whose route to school is unsafe

The second category of those eligible for free transport to schools even though they live within walking distance covers those who cannot reasonably be expected to walk to their nearest suitable school because of the nature of the routes they could reasonably be expected to take. The LA should assess the route at the times the child would be using it. They should take into account:

  • the age of the child
  • whether risks might be less if the child were accompanied by an adult and whether that is practicable
  • the width of the road and the existence of pavements
  • the volume and speed of traffic
  • street lighting
  • different conditions at different times of year

4. Children from low income families:

  • Secondary school age children from low income families who attend schools over 2 and up to 6 miles from their home will be eligible for free school transport even if the school they attend is not their nearest suitable school, providing there are not three or more suitable schools which are nearer to their home.
  • Under the legislation, secondary age pupils from low income families who receive education elsewhere than in school, for example, if the child is excluded from school and is receiving education at a place which is over 2 and up to 6 miles from their home will also be eligible for LA school transport, whether or not there is a nearer suitable school.
  • Secondly, secondary age children from low income families who attend a school over 2 miles but under 15 miles away from home will be entitled to free school transport if their parent has expressed a wish for them to be educated at that particular school based on the parent’s religion or belief and, having regard to that religion or belief, there is no nearer suitable school. This applies to parents with a particular religious or philosophical belief, including those with a lack of religion or lack of belief.
  • Junior age children (aged 8 – 10) from low income families who live more than 2 miles (rather than 3) from their nearest suitable school become eligible for free school transport from the LA.

5. What is ‘low income’?

A child will qualify for potential eligibility under the 'low income' provisions if he is entitled to free school lunches, or if his parents or carers receive working tax credit at the maximum rate.

6. How is distance measured?

The courts have determined that the distance between home and school is the nearest available route along which a student, accompanied as necessary, can walk with reasonable safety to school.

7. What are travel arrangements?

"Travel arrangements" are defined in section 508B (4) of the Education Act 1996 and pages 48-51 of the government’s statutory guidance Home to School Travel and Transport Guidance 2014.

“Home to school travel arrangements”, in relation to an eligible child, are travel arrangements relating to travel in both directions between the child’s home and the relevant educational establishment in question in relation to that child.

They include arrangements for the provision of transport, and any of the following arrangements – but only if they are made with parental consent:

  • provision of one or more escorts (whether alone or together with other children) when travelling to or from the relevant educational establishment
  • payment of the whole or any part of a person’s reasonable travelling expenses;
  • payment of allowances in respect of the use of particular modes of travel.
  • voluntary arrangements made by the parent.

“Travel arrangements”, in relation to an eligible child, must not give rise to additional costs and must include appropriate protection against those costs.

8. Do travel arrangements have to be suitable?

Yes. The Home to School Travel and Transport Guidance (paras 34 and 35) defines suitable travel arrangements. In particular:

  • They must enable an eligible child to reach school without such stress, strain or difficulty that they would be prevented from benefiting from the education provided".
  • They must enable the child to travel in reasonable safety and comfort although this does not necessarily mean a door-to-door service. However, arrangements that entailed a child walking an unreasonably long distance to catch a public bus would be unlikely to be 'suitable'.
  • The guidance suggests maximum reasonable journey times of 45 minutes for primary school children, and 75 minutes for secondary school children. This may be shorter for children with SEN and/or a disability. (See Children with statements). The child’s age and disability would have to be taken into account. Breaks might be needed when children live a long way from their school.
  • Those who operate the travel arrangements such as bus drivers and escorts must be subject to enhanced DBS (formally CRB) checks and should have undertaken disability equality training.

9. I have heard that transport needs to be non –stressful, what does that mean?

The issue of school transport for children with statements was raised in the case of R v Hereford and Worcester CC, ex parte P(1992). The court held that it was implicit that the transport provided by the LA should be “non-stressful” if the child was to benefit from education. 

10. I would like to take my son to school myself. Will the LA help with my costs?

LAs can make payments to parents and carers of pupils with SEN to act as an escort or to use the family car to take the pupil to school, generally where this is a special school at some distance from home. Government guidance – Home to School Travel for Pupils Requiring Special Arrangments – says that the LA’s policy should set out when they will do this and the amounts parents are entitled to.

The SEND 0-25 Code of Practice (paras 9.216 and 10.29) says that when a LA names a residential provision some distance from the parents’ home the LA must provide reasonable transport or travel assistance.

Sometimes there is a space on a vehicle that can be used by a pupil who is not eligible for free home-to-school transport. LAs can make a charge for spare seats. This should be set out in their policy and explain the circumstances such a seat may be withdrawn if required for pupils who are eligible for free transport.

11. My child has an EHC plan (or a statement of special educational needs).  Does this mean that he is automatically entitled to transport?

Not automatically. In theory children with statements/EHC plans should receive transport if they fit one of the categories. If a child with a statement/plan happens to be sufficiently able to be able to get to school on their own and does not fit within one of the categories they will not be entitled to free home-school transport.

In practice deals are sometimes struck over school transport when parents are in dispute with their LA over the costs of placement at different schools. The SEND 0-25 Code suggests that LAs may name a school preferred by parents even where this is not the nearer school, if parents agreed to meet all or part of the transport costs. 

However parents should only enter into such agreements if the school which the LA wish the child to attend is in fact a suitable school and if the parents believe the LA can show that their preferred school would be an inefficient use of the LA’s resources If parents have challenged the LA at the SEND Tribunal and won with the parents’ preferred school being named in the statement/plan unconditionally, the parents’ choice of school is then deemed to be the nearest suitable school and it automatically follows that transport will be provided if the child is an eligible child for the purpose of home to school transport.

The SEND 0-25 Code of Practice 2014 suggests that transport will only be recorded in an EHC plan in exceptional cases where the child has particular transport needs but recent case law has cast doubt over whether this is possible in law (see Staffordshire County Council v JM [2016] UKUT 0246 (AAC). However, transport costs may be provided as part of a personal budget where one is agreed and included in the EHC plan as part of the special educational provision (paras 9.215 and 9.217).

12. My child has learning difficulties and is going to need support and extra services around transport - what else is required to be done?

The government guidance, Home to School Travel for Pupils Requiring Special Arrangements, advises on particular issues affecting pupils with severe learning difficulties and it recommends that local authorities:

  • ensure drivers and escorts are known to parents
  • operator contact numbers are provided for parents
  • ensure stability of staffing arrangements for pupils who dislike change
  • encourage schools and transport services to use a home-school liaison diary
  • ensure that journey times are reasonable to avoid undue stress.

Other legal requirements and good practice points covered by the guidance include:

  • enhanced DBS checks for all drivers and escorts
  • minimum standards of training for drivers and escorts, including training in conflict resolution, safe handling and working with children with particular medical conditions or disabilities where appropriate
  • assessment and management of risk
  • specific measures for pupils with health needs
  • specific training for staff and vehicle adaptations for pupils with mobility needs.

The guidance recommends that travel needs of pupils with SEN be reviewed at least annually and that pupils should always travel by using mainstream arrangements and local travel schemes where they can. Reviews can decrease as well as increase transport support of course.

13. My local authority says that what I am asking for is not part of their policy, what does that mean?

LAs should have a policy on home-to-school transport. The policy should set out:

  • eligibility for free travel and how entitlement will be assessed;
  • arrangements for children with SEN and/or disabilities including arrangements for pupils who are registered at more than one school;
  • provision of escorts;
  • charges;
  • assistance to attend extended schools;
  • travel to residential schools;
  • complaints.

LAs should consult widely on any changes to such policies. If the LA quotes its policy, start by obtaining a copy of it. Such policies should not impose additional restrictions and limitations on access which are not contained in the Education Act 1996.

14.  My son is 16 and has SEN.  The local authority says that they won't be arranging transport for him. Can they do this?

When it comes to transport arrangements for those aged 16-17 (and sometimes 18), the LA’s duty to provide transport for eligible children stops and becomes a more general duty under s.509AA Education Act 1996.  There is specific statutory guidance dealing with this duty - “Post-16 transport to education and training” which can be found in the 'Essential law' section.

When it comes to transport for those aged 16-17, the LA’s duty is to produce a policy (a Transport Policy Statement "TPS") iwhich is not the same ‘strong’ duty to make travel arrangements as would exist for a child of compulsory school age, and, unfortunately, there is certainly no guarantee that transport arrangements will be made for a student who is above compulsory school age, and it is unlikely that they will be free. 

That being said, the purpose of the TPS is to specify the arrangements for the provision of transport or otherwise that the authority considers it necessary to make to facilitate the attendance of all persons of sixth form age receiving education or training.   When assessing what transport arrangements or financial assistance may be required, the LA should consider the needs of the most vulnerable or socially excluded learners. The needs of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities should be specifically considered and the arrangements in place for each group must be documented in the TPS (para 13.1).

15.  My daughter has an EHC plan and has complex needs.  She is 20 and will be attending a specialist FE college. The EHC plan has just been amended, naming her college, but we've been told the LA won't provide transport any more because she's 20.  She can't travel independently so can the LA do this? 

The LA’s duty regarding transport for ‘adult learners’ is covered by s.508F of the Education Act 1996.  ‘Adult learners’ will usually be those young people who are over the age of 19, but if a young person has started a course of study before they reach the age of 19, they will not be considered to be an ‘adult learner’ until that course is complete and they have started a new one (s.509AC Education Act 1996).

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.

LAs also have duties under s.508G of the Education Act 1996 to consult with FE colleges and others about fulfilling their duties to transport these learners, and they must publish a policy on how they will do so.  The first place to look, therefore, is likely to be the LA’s policy on post-16 transport which should set out the travel arrangements for those who are ‘adult learners’, to whom they have a duty under s.508F.

If a young person / adult learner has an EHC plan, then this could well strengthen their argument that travel arrangements are ‘necessary’: the LA have a duty to secure the special educational provision specified within the plan and will have real difficulty doing so if the young person can’t get to college to access that provision.

Even if they do not consider it “necessary”, 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).

16. How do I appeal a decision about transport?

For children with statements or EHC plans, issues around transport can become relevant in an appeal about the school named in Part 4 of a statement or Section (I) of an EHC plan and transport costs are relevant to the costs of a particular school placement. It is possible to appeal a statement of SEN to have a sentence in part 4 about responsibility for transport removed. But the SEND Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to deal with disputes about transport alone.

If you disagree with a decision made about transport, you will need to start by making an appeal through the LA’s own internal appeals procedures. All LAs should have an appeals procedure for parents to use when they have a complaint about the service or disagree with the eligibility of their child for travel support. The government’s guidance Home to School Travel and Transport Guidance 2014 says that the details of the appeals procedures should be published alongside local authority travel policy statements; there is a recommended review/appeals process in contained in Annex 2 of the guidance which includes a flowchart of the process.

If you are unhappy with your local authority’s decision about your child’s transport to school write to the transport section of your local council to ask for a copy of the policy and appeal procedures. Remember, your local authority is required to publish this information and make it readily available to you as part of its ‘Local Offer’.

If you consider that there has been a failure to comply with the procedural rules of an appeal or if there are any other irregularities in the way the appeal was handled you may have a right to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.

In an extreme case it may be possible for the process by which the decision was reached to be challenged through judicial review proceedings if it is flawed on public law grounds.

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