The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs Y complains about the Council’s inconsistent application of its home to school transport policy for children with special educational needs. The Ombudsman finds no evidence of fault in the Council’s application of the policy in question.
- The complainant, whom I will call Mrs Y, complains about inconsistencies in the Council’s application of its home to school transport policy.
- In particular she says the Council failed to use its discretion to arrange early transport for her eligible son who was sent home from school due to illness. However Mrs Y says the Council will arrange transport for children sent home due to bad behaviour.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- During my investigation, I have:
- Discussed the complaint with Mrs Y by telephone and considered any information she submitted, including her response to the Ombudsman’s previous draft decision;
- Made enquiries of the Council and considered its response;
- Consulted the Council’s home-to-school transport ‘Guidelines for Parents’; and
- Issued a draft decision and invited comments from the Council and Mrs Y before reaching a final decision. I received none.
What I found
- Mrs Y has a son with special educational needs, whom I will refer to as X. He attends a school which is 30 minutes from their home address. Mrs Y says this is the nearest school which can meet X’s needs. As such, X has received home to school taxi transport from the Council since September 2017.
- X fell ill at school on 4 October 2017. His school called Mrs Y to arrange for his collection. Mrs Y received this call towards the end of the school day. Mrs Y explained to the school that it would take her 30 minutes to reach X, at which point it would almost be the end of the school day. Mrs Y asked the school to contact the Council to arrange for an early pick-up of X.
- The school contacted the Council to request an early pick-up, but the Council refused. It cited its guidelines which confirm that early transportation will not be arranged for children who become ill during the school day.
- I have considered those guidelines, which state: “travel assistance is provided at the beginning and end of the official school day”.
- The guidelines also confirm:
Transport will not be provided for the following reasons:
- children / young people will not be picked up or dropped off at an alternative address to the home address i.e. grandparents, childminders, parents workplace etc
- after school activities
- attendance at transition, taster, open or induction days
- examinations – transport cannot be tailored to fit in with examination timetables – it will only be provided at the normal school start and finish times
- if your child becomes ill and needs to go home during the school day – this will be your responsibility
- school detention
- school trip
- work placement
- attendance at the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme
- if your child finishes school earlier than the normal pick up time (particularly at the end of a school term)
- annual reviews or other similar review meetings in school
Was there fault causing injustice to Mrs Y and X?
- Mrs Y says the Council inconsistently applies its policy, allowing early transportation of badly behaved children, but not for those who fall ill. She says this is unfair, and materially there is little difference between the two. Mrs Y says the Council should use its discretion, rather than applying a blanket policy for children who are ill.
- In response to my enquiries the Council explained how it applies the policy. It said that often in cases where a child is removed from school due to bad behaviour, a parent or member of staff will arrange transport. However, on some occasions this is not always possible. In those cases, the school will ask the Council to arrange early transport for the child. This is outside of the policy, so the Council only arranges to do so in exceptional circumstances and as a last resort.
- The Council explains this is to ensure the health and safety of the child, staff and other children.
- The Council has justified why it is more likely to agree transport outside of its policy for children sent home due to bad behaviour, compared to those who are ill. The Ombudsman cannot question the merits of that decision and, after considering everything in context, I am satisfied the Council has a sound explanation for applying the policy in the way it does. This is not fault.
- Furthermore, in any event, I am not persuaded that Mrs Y or X suffered any significant injustice by the refusal to arrange early transport on 4 October. I understand the request to collect X came just 30 minutes before the end of the school day. I appreciate it was illogical for Mrs Y to make the journey at that time of day, but X only had to wait a short time until his usual taxi arrived. I understand that Mrs Y speculates further injustice should X become unwell again in the future, but the Ombudsman will not make findings based on speculation.
- The Ombudsman has completed the investigation into Mrs Y’s complaint with a finding of no fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman