Essex County Council (16 014 339)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 21 Mar 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: there is no evidence of fault by the Council in assessing home to school distance or in its decision to refuse free school transport for Mrs N’s son.

The complaint

  1. Mrs N complained that the Council wrongly refused free school transport for her son. She questions the Council’s approach to measuring home to school distance which shows the primary school her son attends is not the closest school to their home.

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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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Mrs N’s complaint and discussed it with her on the telephone. I asked the Council for some further information which I shared with Ms N. I considered the relevant law and guidance.

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What I found

  1. The government issued statutory guidance to local education authorities on home to school travel and transport in July 2014. (The Education Act 1996 sections 508 and 509, and part 6 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.) It is used alongside the School Admissions Code.
  2. The Council is required to make travel arrangements and provide free transport for ‘eligible children’ of compulsory school age to attend their nearest suitable school. A child is eligible where the nearest suitable school is more than two miles from his or her home (if the child is aged under eight) and more than three miles if the child is aged between eight and sixteen. The Council also must make transport arrangements where the school is closer than this but there is no safe walking route.

What happened

  1. Mrs N’s son started primary school in September 2016. Mrs N believed School 1 was the closest to their home. The Council refused to pay the home to school transport costs because it calculated that School 2 was closer. Mrs N appealed through the Council’s internal procedure. The Head of School Admissions and Transport reviewed the decision. He looked again at the assessment of the distance measurements. The Council uses an electronic GIS system. It is based on ordnance survey data and measures the distance from the home address to the school’s address. The Head of School Admissions and Transport confirmed that the GIS system showed School B was closer at 3.084 miles. The distance to School A was calculated to be 3.125 miles. The Council relied on its own system and could not comment on whether other systems measured distance in the same way.

Analysis

  1. The Ombudsman cannot intervene in the Council decisions where they have been made properly. The Council uses the same GIS system for measuring home to school distance in all cases. There may be other ways to calculate distance which result in different measurements. I recognize that Mrs N has made her own calculations and strongly disagrees with the Council’s decision in her case. But the Ombudsman would not criticise the Council for relying on the home to school distance measurement shown by its own system. I can see no fault by the Council in deciding not to provide free school transport after following its agreed policy and procedures.

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Final decision

  1. There is no evidence of fault by the Council in assessing the home to school in Ms N’s case or in reaching a decision on free school transport in line with its agreed policy.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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