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Cheshire West & Chester Council (17 015 031)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 13 Apr 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is not at fault for not allowing Mrs X’s son, Y, to travel on the school bus. The Council has assessed the route as safe for Y to walk accompanied to the bus stop. This is in line with the relevant legislation and a decision the Council is entitled to take.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains about the Council’s decision to issue her son with a free school pass rather than allow him to travel on the school bus. She says the walk to the bus stop is dangerous and the school bus has capacity and stops outside their house.

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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. 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. I have considered Mrs X’s written complaint and the Council’s response to my enquiries.
  2. Mrs X and the Council have had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Councils have a duty to provide free home to school transport for eligible children to qualifying schools. (Education Act 1996, section 508B)
  2. Eligible children are children of compulsory school age who:
    • cannot walk to school because of their special educational needs, disability or a mobility problem; or
    • live beyond the statutory walking distance; or
    • receive free school meals, or whose parents receive the maximum Working Tax Credit. (Education Act 1996, Schedule 35B)
  3. The statutory walking distance is two miles for a child aged under eight and three miles for a child aged eight and over. It is measured by the shortest route along which a child, accompanied as necessary, may walk with reasonable safety. (Education Act 1996, section 444(5))
  4. The nearest qualifying school is the nearest school with places available that provides education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child, and any special educational needs the child may have.
  5. The Government have set out a recommended 2 stage review and appeals process for parents who wish to challenge a decision about their child’s eligibility for travel support. This comprises of:
    • Stage one: Review by a senior officer
    • Stage two: Review by an independent appeal panel

What happened

  1. In 2013 the Council carried out a consultation and made changes to its home to school transport policy. The Council decided to stop providing free home to school transport to “catchment” or “feeder” schools if they were not the nearest school with an available place at the time of application.
  2. In 2017 Mrs X applied successfully for a school place for her son Y at school A. Mrs X also applied for home to school transport for Y. The Council rejected the application as it said school A was not Y’s nearest school with places available. Mrs X appealed the decision. She said:
    • School A was the feeder school for her children and her elder son got free school transport on the school bus.
    • The school bus stopped outside her home.
    • She could not take Y to school.
    • Children on the same road had been given places on the bus last year.
    • Children at school A had always been guaranteed school transport.
    • Y should not have been offered a place if he was not eligible for transport.
  3. The Council considered Mrs X’s appeal at stage one of the review process. The Council said its policy had been correctly applied and school A was not the nearest qualifying school. The Council clarified that parents were responsible for transporting or accompanying their children to school and an award of a place did not guarantee school transport. It also pointed out a public bus to school A stopped near Mrs X’s home.
  4. Mrs X remained unhappy and asked for the matter to be considered by an independent appeal panel. She said the walking route to the bus stop was not safe. She also did not want to send Y to the nearest school as it was a religious school.
  5. The appeal panel considered Mrs X’s case and decided there were exceptional circumstances. It granted Y a free bus pass for one academic year to allow him to get used to travelling on the public bus to school. Mrs X was unhappy the panel did not give Y was a place on the school bus, which stopped outside her home, and complained to the Ombudsman.

My findings

  1. The Council was entitled to make changes to its school transport policy following a consultation. The changes meant that while Mrs X’s eldest son benefited from home to school transport to school A, this would not be the case for her younger children if they went to school A.
  2. The appeal panel considered Mrs X’s individual circumstances and exercised its discretion to grant Y free home to school transport for a year on the public bus. This is something the panel is entitled to do and does not make the Council’s policy wrong. Mrs X says the route to the bus stop is dangerous and Y should be able to travel on the school bus which stops outside her house.
  3. The panel considered this when it made its decision. However, the panel decided it could not offer Y a place on the school bus as many other families in the area would have a similar claim. The Council has also pointed out the bus is only halfway through its route when it stops at Mrs X’s home, and currently has 32 of 33 spaces allocated. The Ombudsman cannot question a decision when there is no fault in the way it was reached. The panel considered all the information and came to a decision. The Council is not at fault.
  4. Home to school transport legislation is clear that walking routes need to be safe for an accompanied child to walk. The Council assessed the walking route from Mrs X’s home to the bus stop in September 2017 and decided it was safe for Y to walk along while accompanied. Since the panel’s decision the Council has corresponded with Mrs X and made changes to the route. This includes better identification of the bus stop and a review of the speed limit. However, it has assessed the route as currently safe regardless of these changes.
  5. Mrs X’s concern for Y is understandable. However, the Council has assessed the safety of the route against the relevant legislation and come to a decision. There is no evidence of fault in the Council’s decision the route is safe for Y to walk accompanied to the bus stop. The Council is not at fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have decided to complete my investigation as there is no evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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