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Council’s decision-making criticised during school transport investigation

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has asked Staffordshire County Council to reconsider whether it pays for transport to get a teenager, who has autism, to her  college some 25 miles away.

Since moving to post-16 education, the girl has not received any financial help to get to the  college named in her Education, Health and Care Plan.

The council has argued it does not have a duty to provide transport assistance for the girl because she is in post-16 education and could use public transport, if accompanied.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council failed to take into account the actual journey the girl would have to make to get to the college. It did not consider the distance and location of the college meant it would take her significantly longer than the benchmark journey time of 75 minutes – recommended in the statutory guidance – to get there by public transport.

The mother had told the council that, irrespective that her daughter’s disability affects her ability to use public transport, because there is no direct bus link a single journey would take two hours. This would mean somebody accompanying her would have to spend all day travelling to and from the school.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“This is not the first case in which we have found problems with the way Staffordshire County Council has made decisions about providing school transport. Some of the faults we have found in those cases are similar to those here, including not taking individual circumstances into account, and not making decisions in line with its own policy when read in conjunction with statutory guidance.

“I am pleased the council has agreed to my recommendations and hope the learning it will share from this case will help ensure other teenagers are not affected by poor decision making in future.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the girl and her mother and pay the mother £300 to acknowledge the uncertainty and upset caused by the flawed decision making. It will also reconsider their school transport appeal, and backdate eligibility to the start of the Autumn 2020 term.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to evidence how it has given all relevant staff and decision makers information about the lessons learned from the case.

It will also audit a sample of 20 per cent of transport applications for the 2020-21 school year for post-16 students and check it has made a proper assessment in line with statutory guidance and its own transport statement. If the council finds cases in the sample where the decision is flawed, it should then review all cases of post-16 students who have applied for transport on SEN or other disability grounds and the council has refused it but previously provided it for the 2020-21 year.

Article date: 16 September 2021