Suffolk County Council (17 014 236)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 16 Apr 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complains the Council has refused to provide her son with a travel pass to get to sixth form college. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered her application for transport assistance for her son

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X complains about the way the Council considered her application for home to school transport for her son.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mrs X;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
    • considered relevant legislation including the Education Act 1996 (as amended) and statutory guidance published by the Department for Education;
    • considered the Council’s Post 16 Travel Policy Statement;
    • sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mrs X and the Council and invited their comments.

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What I found

  1. The Council’s policy states it provides subsidised transport assistance, rather than free travel, to students in Years 11 and 12 who:
    • are over compulsory school age but under 19 years and those aged 19 and over who are continuing on a particular course of study started before the age of 19;
    • undertake an approved full-time course of further education study;
    • are normally resident in Suffolk;
    • live at least three miles away from either their nearest school sixth form or Post-16 centre.
  2. Where students want to study more specialist subjects or courses which are not available at their nearest school sixth form or Post-16 centre, the Council will consider applications on an individual exceptional basis.

What happened here

  1. Mrs X applied for assistance with transport for her son to attend Sixth Form College 1. This is the nearest sixth form college to Mrs X’s home address so she met the criteria and the Council approved the application. Mrs X paid the contribution and the Council issued the travel pass.
  2. In September 2017 Mrs Y’s son moved to Sixth Form College 2, to study the same A level subjects as at College 1. Mrs X applied for assistance with transport to College 2. As College 2 is not the nearest sixth form college to Mrs X’s home address she did not meet the distance criteria. The Council states it passed the application to its learning and skills team for assessment under the exceptional course criteria. As Mrs Y’s son could study his chosen subjects at College 1, the Council did not approve the application under the exceptional criteria.
  3. Mrs X challenged this decision under the Right to Challenge process. Mrs X asserted it was ludicrous to refuse transport assistance when both colleges were sixteen miles from their home and so close to each other. College 2 is on the same bus route as College 1, and she said her son could walk from College 1 to College 2 in two minutes.
  4. The Council considered Mrs X’s challenge and maintained its position. It would not offer travel assistance as College 2 was not the nearest provider to her home that offered the combination of courses her son had applied to study.
  5. Under the Council’s Post 16 Travel Policy if an applicant is unhappy with the review decision, they can raise their concerns through the complaint process. Mrs X submitted a formal complaint which the Council responded to.
  6. The Council acknowledged the distance between the two colleges was minimal and used the same bus route. But reiterated that under its policy it could only offer travel assistance to the nearest provision.
  7. Mrs X has returned the travel pass for College 1 and the Council has sent her a refund. Mrs X remains dissatisfied and has asked the Ombudsman to investigate.

Analysis

  1. Although Mrs X is unhappy with the Council’s strict application of its policy, this does not amount to fault on the part of the Council. The Council has acknowledged the minimal difference in distance from Mrs X’s home to each college. But the decision to only offer travel assistance to the nearest provision is in line with its policy.
  2. The Council considered whether it could approve a travel pass under the exceptional course criteria. However, as Mrs X’s son could study the same A level subjects at both colleges, this did not apply. There is no evidence Mrs X asked the Council to consider other exceptional circumstances.
  3. In the absence of any evidence to show the Council has not considered Mrs X’s application in accordance with its Post 16 Travel Policy I am unable to consider this matter further.

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Final decision

  1. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council considered Mrs X’s application for home to school transport.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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