Essex County Council (18 008 610)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 20 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s decision to refuse home to school transport. It is unlikely we would find fault in the Council’s decision.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains the Council refused to provide home to school transport for his child, B.

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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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
    • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
    • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint and the Council’s replies to his appeal which it provided. Mr X had an opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. B was due to move to senior school in September 2018. Mr X applied for a place for B at School Y. This is not the nearest school to their home but B’s sibling attended School Y. In March 2018, Mr X learnt his application had been successful and B had been allocated a place at School Y.
  2. Mr X changed his mind and applied for a place for B at School Z, which is their nearest school. He was successful. Mr X applied for home to school transport as School Z is more than three miles from his home. The Council confirmed it would provide home to school transport.
  3. Mr X contacted the transport provider to find out the detail of this home to school transport. Mr X believes the intended provision was unsafe for B to use. He says the route to walk to the pick up and drop off point was not safe. And that the transport company intended dropping B off more than a mile from School Y. He says in total B would have to walk 3 miles a day even with the transport.
  4. Mr X decided to take up the option of a place at School Y instead. He then applied for home to school transport to School Y. He was unsuccessful and appealed. He said the transport to be provided to School Z was not suitable and was unsafe. He said B’s sibling already had free transport to School Y.
  5. The Council considered Mr X’s appeal. It said that the route to School Z was irrelevant. If he considered the Council’s transport offer to School Z as unsafe he should have appealed that decision. It said School Y was not their nearest school which meant B did not qualify for transport and there were no exceptional circumstances to override this.

Background law and Council policy

  1. Under section 444 of the Education Act 1996, parents have a duty to make sure their children attend school.
  2. To support parents in this duty, section 508B(1) and schedule 35B of the Education Act 1996 requires local authorities to make home to school travel arrangements as they consider necessary for eligible children to attend their ‘qualifying school’. The relevant qualifying school is the nearest school with places available that provides education appropriate to the age, ability and aptitude of the child, and any special educational needs the child may have. ‘Eligible children’ are defined as those who:
    • cannot walk to school because of their special educational needs, disability or mobility problem;
    • cannot walk to school safely because of the nature of the route;
    • live outside ‘statutory walking distance’ from the school (two miles for children under eight, three miles for children over eight); and
    • are entitled to assistance on low income grounds.
  3. Councils also have discretion under the 1996 Act to offer transport “where they consider it necessary to facilitate the child’s attendance at the school”.
  4. The Council’s policy matches the legal duty. It specifically says a child would not be eligible if they have rejected a place at a closer school. This is the case here as School Z is closer than School Y.
  5. The Council’s decision to refuse transport is in line both with the law and with the Council’s own policy.

Analysis

  1. The papers show the Council officer at appeal stage carefully considered Mr X’s arguments. It decided the decision to refuse Mr X’s application complied with both the law and the Council’s policy. It decided that there were no exceptional reasons to make an exception to the policy in this case. It decided it was parental preference for B to attend School Y. The Council’s appeal decision letter explains this decision.
  2. It is unlikely the Ombudsman would say there is evidence the Council did not properly consider the appeal. Without evidence of fault in the way a decision is reached, the Ombudsman may not question the decision itself.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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