Dudley Council held a consultation last year on whether the council should continue to provide home-to-school transport for children who are not of compulsory school age.
Under the law, the council says it is not required to provide transport to school for children under the age of four and a half or older than sixteen. Dudley Council says a reduction in the service would lead to an increase in the independence of pupils and ensure that travel support is provided for eligible children and young people of compulsory school age, i.e., between 5 and 16 years of age.
It is believed almost 95 per cent of children who currently use the service are on an education, health and care ( EHC ) plan. EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs.
The council is currently struggling with the growing number of children requesting EHC plans in Dudley as well as a bleak financial outlook confirmed by the latest council risk report. The council says reducing home-to-school transport would allow them to achieve “efficiency savings and make best use of the available resources.”
But, after a consultation, the majority of parents and carers groups did not agree with the plans. One parent said: “The strategy describes how the council will use its resources to remove barriers to learning and ensure that children and young people will feel that their achievements are valued, that they are happy and enjoy school, lead healthy lifestyles, feel safe in their learning environments and are appropriately supported in order to achieve their full potential.
“By not providing transport for pre-school and post 16 you are putting up barriers to learning, not removing them.”
Another parent said: “This is discriminating working parents as they will have to adapt/ lose/leave their jobs to transport their children at these different pick ups and drop offs.”
Although some parents were in support of the changes with one saying “it helps kids to mix with others and have good interactions when travelling together and build confidence too,” some parents voiced concerns about the particular impact on children with special education needs and disabilities.
“The new policies directly target children with special educational needs. Targeting not only children but some of the most vulnerable children. Without these invaluable services, many families will not be able to access the specialist education that their children so desperately need,” one parent said.
In total 52 people took part in the consultation with 38% believing that the changes were unlawful and 27 per cent believing they were lawful. Almost half of respondents disagreed that the changes aligned with Dudley’s overall special education needs and disabilities policies.
Many parents also believed that support was being removed before alternative provisions have been put into place. Dudley Council has said that it will take the feedback into account and will work with parents and carers going forward.
The council said: “The draft 4+ to 16 Years Transport Assistance Policy and Post 16 Statement have now been updated to reflect the feedback from the consultation and Legal Services’ response to that feedback.
“However, there is still work required to ensure that the supporting processes and procedures are fully developed working in consultation with the Parent cares Forum and internal service. This work will be completed by the end of March 2023.”