The clarity of information provided by Essex County Council to parents about a new school transport policy has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) in a report.
The LGO received 64 complaints from parents across Essex after the council changed the way it offered free school transport to secondary school pupils.
The report looks into complaints from four sets of parents, which represent issues common to the other complaints received.
The investigation found there was no fault in the way the council consulted people about the changes to its transport policy. But it found the information provided about its policy during the school application process could have been clearer. The Ombudsman found the council failed to explain how parents could establish which was their closest school. The council also failed to explain clearly how it measured home to school distances. The investigation found these faults created the potential for confusion.
The investigation also found the council at fault for not properly considering individual circumstances during the appeal process, and not providing clear decisions for the reasons for those decisions.
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:
“Selecting the most appropriate school for a child is an important decision for any parent so it is essential that parents are given clear information to help inform their choices.
“When making significant changes to policies which have an impact upon a large number of people, councils have a responsibility to make sure those changes – and their effects – are as clear as possible.
“I am pleased Essex council has accepted some of my recommendations, and would now call on it to agree to the rest of the actions to remedy what went wrong.”
To remedy the complaints, the council has agreed to ensure its information for parents explains how they can establish which is their nearest school. It will also ensure its transport policy and website contain the correct information about the assessment of home to school distances, and review its school transport appeal procedure.
The council has agreed to offer a fresh appeal to the second parent detailed in the report to ensure her specific circumstances are fully taken into account and the reasons for their decisions are fully explained.
The LGO has also recommended the council should pay the third and fourth parents in the report £300 each in recognition of the lost opportunity to choose a school to which free transport would be provided.
The LGO has asked the council to review the other complaints received by the Ombudsman in light of this report. Parents who have had their complaint sent back to the council to review retain the right to come back to the Ombudsman if they are unhappy with the council’s response.
Article date: 25 February 2016