The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs X complain about changes to the schedule of the school bus and the impact on their children’s journey times to and from school. There was fault because the Council gave them misleading information on when it carried out a risk assessment of the route. The Council agreed to remedy the injustice to them through an apology.
- Mr and Mrs X complain about changes to the schedule of the school bus and the impact on their children’s journey times to and from school. They say:
- The Council is breaching guidance in the Home to School Transport policy on the maximum length of school journeys
- The risk assessment of the route was done in 2013 and was not updated until they complained
- Children are left unsupervised for long periods on the bus with consequential bad behaviour
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. She provides a free service, but must use public money carefully. She may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if she believes:
- it is unlikely she would find fault, or
- the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
- the injustice is not significant enough to justify her involvement, or
- it is unlikely she could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
- she cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
- there is another body better placed to consider this complaint, or
- it would be reasonable for the person to ask for a council review or appeal.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the complaint and correspondence sent to the Ombudsman by Mr and Mrs X and the Council. I discussed matters with Mr X by telephone.
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
What I found
- The Council made a change to the school bus schedule for the primary school attended by Mr and Mrs X’s children in November 2016.The Council decided to use only one school bus for children in the local area going to the school with the consequent change to the timetable. The Council made the change because of concerns raised by the school and parents about the previous arrangements.
- The change means Mr and Mrs X’s children now face a journey time of 42 minutes to a school which is two miles away from their home. They say the Home to School Travel and Transport statutory guidance states the maximum travelling time for children is 45 minutes and this should include walking to the bus and waiting times. They say the Council is in breach of the home to school transport policy.
- The Council’s response to their complaint on this point was that the time table showed their children would be on the bus for 30 minutes in the morning and 26 minutes in the afternoon. It acknowledged the change meant their children faced significantly longer journey. However it was satisfied their journey times were within the timescales set out in its transport policy.
- The Council also said it would monitor the operation of the school bus to ensure it keeps to the new schedule. It cited an occasion in which an inspector travelled on the school bus to monitor its operation.
- When Mr and Mrs X contacted the Council about the change to the school bus schedule the initial response they received stated ‘a decision was made, following a review and risk assessment, that all of the pupils would travel on one designated school vehicle’. They asked the Council for a copy of the risk assessment referred to in this response. The Council provided them with the risk assessments which were dated between August and September 2013.
- Mr and Mrs X queried the dates of the assessments. The Council said a full route risk assessment had been carried out in October 2016. But as the locations of the specific pick up and drop off points were not proposed to be changed the individual risk assessments had not been updated. The Council said the individual pick up and drop off points were due to be reviewed in September 2017. The Council said it brought forward the review because of their concerns and so the risk assessment with respect to their children’s pick up and drop off point was done in December 2016. The risk assessment showed the pick up and drop off point was in a low risk category.
- Mr and Mrs X raised concerns about the potential for bad and disruptive behaviour on the bus because the children face longer journey times and would be unsupervised for the extended journeys. The Council said its ‘max respect’ officer would travel on the bus to observe pupil conduct periodically. It also asked the School to keep a log of arrival times and report any concerns it has about bad behaviour to its passenger transport unit.
The Council is breaching guidance in the Home to School Transport policy on the maximum length of school journeys
- I do not find fault by the Council here.
- The Council is satisfied that Mr and Mrs X’s children face journeys on the bus of 30 minutes in the morning and 26 minutes in the afternoon. When this is combined with waiting times Mr and Mrs X say their children face journeys of 42 minutes.
- The statutory guidance refers to best practice suggesting the maximum each way length of journey for a child of primary school is 45 minutes and this is reflected in the Council’s own policy. So the present schedule does not breach the guidance.
- However, there are occasions cited by Mr and Mrs X when their children were dropped from school later than the schedule allows. These instances suggest it is for the Council to monitor the operation of the new schedule and take action if the incidents of lateness occur frequently. The Council already explained to Mr and Mrs X that it will monitor the performance of the bus service. That is the appropriate action to take.
The risk assessment of the route was done in 2013 and was not updated until they complained
- I accept the Council’s explanation the review of the risk assessment done on the pick up and drop off point used by Mr and Mrs X’s children was not due until September 2017. But this was not the explanation given in the first email from the Council in response to contact from Mr and Mrs X. The wording of the email gives the reader the impression there had been a review and risk assessment which led to the Council’s recent decision that the school pupils would travel on one vehicle.
- I accept the final complaint response from the Council clarified matters and served to address the misleading impression. I consider a formal apology from the Council is an appropriate remedy for the strong sense of grievance Mr and Mrs X retained.
Children are left unsupervised for long periods on the bus with consequential bad behaviour
- Mr and Mrs X rightly point to the potential for bad behaviour on the school bus. But I am satisfied with the Council’s approach to the possibility of bad behaviour. It said its max respect officer would travel on the route to monitor pupil behaviour. It will also liaise with the school to consider reports of bad behaviour the school receives from other sources.
- This approach does not mean there will not be instances of bad behaviour. Rather, the school and the Council will work to minimise the possibility of bad behaviour. I do not find fault with the Council’s approach.
- I found fault because the Council gave a misleading impression of the timing of a risk assessment to Mr and Mrs X. The Council agreed to remedy the injustice to them through an apology.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman