Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Suffolk County Council (19 008 661)

Category : Education > School transport

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 24 Jun 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs B complains that the Council was wrong to refuse transport for her son, C, to the special education school that he attends. The Ombudsman cannot question the Council’s decision to refuse transport because we have found no fault in the way that decision was reached.

The complaint

  1. Mrs B complains that:
    • The Council was wrong to refuse her son, C, home to school transport.
    • It did not properly consider whether C’s father could take him to school.
    • It also did not properly consider where C would be in a fit state to participate and learn at school after having to walk to school.

Back to top

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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mrs B’s written complaint and supporting correspondence. I have made enquiries of the Council and considered its responses, including copies of correspondence, the school transport appeal papers and C’s EHCP. I have had regard to relevant legislation and guidance. I have also sent Mrs B and the Council a draft decision and invited their comments.

Back to top

What I found

  1. As set out in the Education Act 1996, councils must make arrangements to provide suitable free school transport to those “eligible” children of statutory school age who:
    • attend their nearest suitable school and live further than the statutory walking distance. This is two miles for children aged less than eight years old and three miles for children eight and above.
    • are from a low-income family, defined as receiving free school meals or in receipt of the maximum Working Tax Credit. These children are entitled to free school transport if their nearest suitable school is more than two miles away if they are aged eight to eleven.
    • cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school because of their mobility problems or because of associated health and safety issues related to their special educational needs or disability. Eligibility for such children should be assessed on an individual basis to identify their particular transport requirements. Usual transport requirements (e.g. the statutory walking distances) should not be considered when assessing the transport needs of children eligible due to special educational needs and/or disability. (Education Act 1996 section 508B and Schedule 35B)
  2. The Government also issued statutory guidance in July 2014 to local education authorities on home to school transport. This says:
    • When determining whether a child with special educational needs, disability or mobility problems cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school, councils must consider if the child could reasonably be expected to walk to school if accompanied. If so, councils must also decide whether the child’s parents can reasonably be expected to accompany the child on the journey to school, taking account a range of factors including the child’s age and whether one would normally expect a child of that age to be accompanied. (Home to school travel and transport guidance - Statutory guidance for local authorities 2014, paragraph 17)
    • For a council’s school transport arrangements to be suitable they must also be safe and reasonably stress free, to enable the child to arrive at school ready for a day of study. (Home to school travel and transport guidance - Statutory guidance for local

The Council’s School Travel Policy

Special Educational Needs

  1. The Council:

“will consider whether the child could reasonably be expected to walk if accompanied and, if so, whether the child’s parent can reasonably be expected to accompany the child”.

  1. It will review travel arrangements for children who have special educational needs and/or mobility difficulties on the following basis:

“as part of the annual EHCP process or following an assessment of the child’s ability to walk to school, having regard to a child’s special educational needs, disability or mobility problems where relevant, and taking into account any exceptional circumstances. Relevant supporting professional evidence will be required before transport eligibility is agreed.”

“as and when required by the Passenger Transport Team as part of their responsibility to ensure the child’s needs are continuing to be met whilst using the most efficient and cost-effective transport arrangement. Relevant supporting professional evidence may be required where a child’s needs may have changed.”

Challenges and appeals

  1. The Council will accept challenges on several grounds, including that:

“there are other exceptional circumstances which mean that you cannot arrange for your child to access their school, examples might include your child’s special needs or medical condition means that they cannot be expected to walk to their school, or your medical condition means that you cannot accompany your child to their school…”

  1. It will assume that:

“[the] child will… be accompanied by their parent/carer if necessary unless there is a good reason why it is not reasonable to expect the parent/carer to do so.”

  1. Unless there are other exceptional reasons, the Council will not normally accept an appeal on the grounds of:

“Work issues relating to a parent’s employment, such as working patterns, that may mean a parent is not to be able to get their child to school…”

  1. The Council has two separate panels which consider school transport appeals:
    • The Travel Officer Panel (TOP) consists of appropriate representatives from the Council’s Children and Young People’s Services and Passenger Transport Team. The TOP normally deals with appeals other than those relating to the safety of the route, especially where an individual does not wish to make a verbal representation.
    • The Education Transport Appeals Committee (ETAC) consists of elected Councillors. The ETAC meets to consider cases affecting individuals relating to the safety of the route and/or exceptional circumstances where the parent wishes to make verbal representation.
  2. Once either panel has made a decision, there is no further right of appeal.

What happened

  1. Mr and Mrs B have four children, two of whom have special educational needs. Their son, C, has a genetic disorder which causes developmental, behavioural, and emotional difficulties (including ADHD) together with some health problems.
  2. C attended Year 6 at primary school in 2018/19. He has an Educational, Health and Support Plan (EHC) to help provide the support that he needs. The EHCP named a special education school from September 2019.
  3. Mrs B applied for transport to the school, but this was refused as the family live less than three miles from the school. Mrs B appealed on the basis that C would need transport to school because of his mental health difficulties, behavioural problems, and lack of sense of danger. She stated on the appeal form that she did not wish to make verbal representations with her appeal.
  4. She provided letters from professionals involved in C’s care:
    • C’s ADHD nurse said he was impulsive, would not be able to travel to school independently and would require close supervision on his journey to school.
    • C’s GP referred to C’s disabilities and explained that he could not make his own way to school as he had no road sense. The GP explained that C’s mother could not take him to school due to a severe anxiety disorder which made it difficult for her to leave the house.
    • C’s existing school family support worker explained that he had an extremely limited sense of danger and he had attended breakfast club so as not to put himself at risk around traffic
  5. The TOP considered Mrs B’s written appeal, the supporting papers from professionals involved in C’s care, and his EHCP. The panel considered that there were no physical reasons why C could not walk to school. It accepted that C would reasonably need to be accompanied on his way to school due to the risk of him running into the road. It also accepted the GP’s explanation that Mrs B would be unable to accompany C to school due to her own health issues.
  6. However, the panel considered that there was a general expectation that parents would be expected to take a child to school, irrespective of whether they work or not, unless there were exceptional reasons why they could not do so. As Mrs B had provided no reasons why her husband could not take C to school, the panel did not uphold her appeal.
  7. The Council explained that she could complain to the Ombudsman if she felt that there was fault in the process. She could also bring any substantial change of circumstances to the attention of the Passenger Transport Team.
  8. C’s school has explained that, as of December 2019, C had 98% attendance, and was coming to school on his bicycle, by walking or being dropped off by his father. The school reports some dysregulation when C comes on a bicycle, but that he quickly calms down.

My assessment

  1. I appreciate that with four children, two of whom have special educational needs, and with Mrs B’s own anxiety disorder, there are challenges for the family to get all the children to school. However, it is not for the Ombudsman to question a decision that has been properly reached.
  2. In this case, the panel considered all the evidence provided and concluded that C could walk to school, provided that he was accompanied, due to the risk of him running into the road. This seems consistent with the supporting evidence.
  3. The Council is correct to say that there is a general expectation that parents will make arrangements to get their children to school, whether or not they are working, and I note that the Council accepts that Mrs B is not in a position to accompany C. However, the panel had no evidence of exceptional reasons why Mr B could not accompany C to school. I can therefore see no grounds to question the panel’s decision not to award transport on that basis.
  4. In the meantime, C’s needs will be reviewed annually as part of the EHCP review process. It also remains open to Mrs B to provide any evidence of any significant changes in circumstances to the Passenger Transport Team.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have closed my investigation into Mrs B’s complaint because I have found no fault in the way the Council considered her application for transport for C.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page