Wokingham Borough Council (18 005 684)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 25 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was not at fault for its decision to refuse school transport for Mrs F’s daughter. It applied statutory guidance correctly, properly considered Mrs F’s grounds of appeal and fully explained its reasons for refusal, so I cannot question its decision.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom it refer to as Mrs F, complains that the Council refused school transport for her daughter, whom I refer to as G.

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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. 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)
  3. 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 considered information provided by Mrs F and the Council. I wrote to Mrs F and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.

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What I found

  1. On 7 June 2018 Mrs F applied to the Council for school transport assistance for G. The Council wrote to her in response, and said G was entitled to assistance. It said it would write to Mrs F again by 20 July to explain the arrangements.
  2. The Council wrote to Mrs F again on 27 June, and said there had been a technical error in its previous decision, and G was not, in fact, eligible for transport assistance. It said a place had been available at a different school to the one Mrs F chose, and that school was the nearest to the family home. It said it would not provide G with transport because she could have gone to the nearest school.
  3. Mrs F appealed the Council’s decision on 29 June, and said that, when she used the Council’s website to input her address and find which designated school areas she lived in, she was provided with a list of three schools, and the nearest school was not one of them. She said that this was the reason she did not choose the nearest school.
  4. The Council reviewed Mrs F’s appeal on 4 July. The clerk’s notes of the meeting show that the Council discussed its website, which says that not all schools are included in the address search tool – including G’s nearest school (although Mrs F says this information was not available when she chose G’s school). The notes also show that the Council discussed its admissions arrangements, which say that G’s nearest school’s designated area also covers the designated areas of other schools.
  5. The Council wrote to Mrs F on 11 July and told her it had not upheld her appeal. It said:
    • It has the statutory duty to provide transport to the nearest suitable school if that school is over three miles away by safe walking distance (for children G’s age);
    • Its admissions arrangements make clear that G’s nearest school’s designated area includes that of other schools, including the school Mrs F chose for G; and
    • Although the Council was sympathetic to Mrs F’s situation, G was not entitled to transport assistance to Mrs F’s chosen school.

Home to school travel and transport statutory guidance

  1. This document says that councils must provide transport to all children aged 5-16 if their nearest suitable school is over two miles away (aged 5-7) or over three miles away (aged 8-16).
  2. It says that some exceptions may be in place for children with special educational needs or disabilities which mean they cannot walk to school, children whose walking route to school is unsafe, and children whose parent(s) are in receipt of maximum Working Tax Credit or who are eligible for free school meals.

The Council’s website

  1. The Council’s address search tool, as stated by Mrs F, does not show G’s nearest school when a search is conducted using the address of the family home.
  2. The web page on which the link to the address search tool is located says:

Not all schools have designated areas. For example, the secondary [G’s nearest school] … and [another school] … will not be listed in address searches through the Primary School Designated Area Maps page.

  1. However, Mrs F says this information was not on the website when she chose G’s school. She says it must have been added afterwards.

The Council’s admissions arrangements

  1. This document includes information about how the Council considers requests for transport assistance. It says:

There are locations where a number of schools will be considered to be designated schools. For example the designated area of [G’s nearest school] includes addresses in the designated areas of [other schools, including Mrs F’s chosen school and the other two schools suggested when she used the online address search tool].

Analysis

  1. I do not have the power to question the Council’s school transport decision, unless there was fault in how it was made. In establishing whether the Council was at fault I have considered whether it:
    • Properly considered Mrs F’s grounds of appeal and supporting evidence;
    • Fully explained the reasons for its decision; and
    • Correctly applied the law in arriving at its decision.
  2. Mrs F was correct in saying that the Council’s online address search tool did not suggest G’s nearest school as an option. I have no reason to doubt that this is why Mrs F did not choose the school. She also says that the information about G’s nearest school not featuring on the address search tool was not there when she chose G’s school.
  3. The Council is under a duty to provide transport to children when their nearest suitable school is over three miles away. G’s nearest school is 1.8 miles away from the family home, by shortest walking distance. Mrs F’s chosen school is 3.1 miles away. G fulfils none of the exceptional criteria set out in the statutory guidance.
  4. This means that the Council is not under the duty to provide transport for G to get to either school, and I have not found fault with how the Council applied the law to Mrs F’s appeal.
  5. The clerk’s notes and the Council’s decision letter both demonstrate that the Council fully considered Mrs F’s grounds of appeal and the evidence she provided. There is a clear link between the grounds of appeal, the Council’s consideration and the decision, and the notes and letter both clearly show why the Council made its decision.
  6. Although Mrs F says the website was not clear at the time, the Council’s decision letter said the decision was based on the admission arrangements. The arrangements I have seen are the same as those available to Mrs F.
  7. It is unfortunate that Mrs F did not see the information about G’s nearest school in the Council’s admissions arrangements. It seems likely that she would have chosen G’s nearest school if she had been aware that it was an option.
  8. Given that the Council had no statutory duty to provide transport to Mrs F’s chosen school, the decision for its appeal panel to make was whether it should use its discretion to provide transport for G because of the confusion over its online search tool.
  9. The panel considered the evidence available but decided the circumstances did not justify the discretionary provision of transport, because the Council’s admissions arrangements explained the circumstances around G’s nearest school’s designated area.
  10. I have not found fault with the panel’s consideration of the evidence in deciding whether to use its discretionary powers, so I cannot question the decision.

Findings

  1. The Council properly considered Mrs F’s grounds of appeal, applied the law correctly in its consideration, and fully explained the reasons for its decision to refuse school transport for G.
  2. As a result, I cannot question the Council’s decision, and I have found no fault with how it handled Mrs F’s appeal.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was not at fault for its decision to refuse school transport for Mrs F’s daughter. It applied statutory guidance correctly, properly considered Mrs F’s grounds of appeal and fully explained its reasons for refusal, so I cannot question its decision.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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