Essex County Council (16 011 597)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 27 Mar 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s refusal to grant her daughter free school transport. This is because we cannot criticise a decision which is properly made or intervene to substitute an alternative view. Also it is unlikely we will find fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains the Council refused her application and appeal for free school transport for her daughter.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Mrs X and discussed her complaint with her. I also considered the Council’s education transport policy which is on its website.
  2. Mrs X had the opportunity to comment on the draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mrs X’s daughter, Y, attends a school some distance from their home. Mrs X says Y attends this school because she was bullied in primary school. She decided that Y should not attend the local catchment school because that was where the children bullying Y would go.
  2. Mrs X paid for a subsidised bus pass for Y until the summer of 2016. At that time she became aware of the possibility that Y qualified for free transport. This is because the Council’s school transport policy provides for victims of bullying.
  3. She applied for free transport for Y which the Council refused. She says that despite contacting the Council several times no one told her about her right to appeal. It was not until she asked the Ombudsman to look at her complaint that she discovered she could appeal the Council’s decision.
  4. The Council’s education transport policy says that if a child had been bullied at school and:
    • the school has exhausted all its anti-bullying procedures
    • it provides evidence it cannot resolve the bullying issues
    • recommends a transfer to another school

then the Council will consider free transport to an alternative school.

  1. The Council refused the appeal because Y had not been bullied at her senior school and transferred to her current school. Mrs X had decided not to send to the nearest school because of concerns that the bullying Y suffered at primary school would continue if she sent to the catchment area school.

Analysis

  1. Local authorities must make suitable travel arrangements as they consider necessary for eligible children to attend their qualifying school. This transport must be provided free.
  2. The relevant qualifying school is the nearest school with places available that provides education appropriate to the age, ability and aptitude of the child, and any special educational needs the child may have.
  3. The Council’s own policy includes a discretionary arrangement for victims of bullying. This is clear that if the parent has not allowed the nearest school to exhaust their anti- bullying procedures then transport assistance cannot be considered.
  4. Mrs X decided not to send her daughter to the nearest school to avoid a potential bullying problem. Therefore the provision in the education transport policy for free transport for victims of bullying does not apply.
  5. Mrs X says the Council is being too restrictive when applying its policy to Y’s situation. However, the Ombudsman cannot criticise a decision which is properly made or intervene to substitute an alternative view. In this case the Council has correctly applied its policy when deciding not to provide free school transport for Y.
  6. Mrs X also complains the Council did not tell her about her right to appeal when she contacted the Council which caused a delay. This is not ideal; however the appeal process is set out in full in the education transport policy which available on its website.

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Final decision

I will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s refusal to grant her daughter free school transport. This is because the Ombudsman cannot criticise a decision which is properly made or intervene to substitute an alternative view and it is unlikely we will find fault in the Council’s actions

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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