Fresh hope for parents in school walking route safety row as council criticised
Parents who demanded free school transport as they claimed a walking route was unsafe have been given fresh hope after a council was rapped over its process for reaching its decision.
Appeals against a decision that the route in Heath House Lane was safe for Codsall High School pupils to walk along are now expected to be heard again after the Local Government Ombudsman ruled the process was not handled correctly by Staffordshire County Council.
The ombudsman concluded the authority should have allowed verbal submissions from parents during the appeal process. The council has been ordered to apologise and is likely to run the stage two part of the appeal again.
The ruling gives fresh hope to parents who have been locked in a long-running battle with the county council over school transport.
They insist the busy road is not safe for children to walk along and say the council should provide free transport.
Council chiefs, however, have maintained the route is safe and that they have no obligation to provide transport as the children live less than three miles from the school.
But they faced fierce opposition from parents and the school's head teacher, while MP Gavin Williamson, who is also the Education Secretary, also waded into the row last year, siding with parents and questioning whether it "was a route they would want their children to be walking on".
Parent Liz Drew, who lodged the complaint, said: "We are thrilled that parents can escalate their complaint about the unsafe walking route to a stage two appeal and the process must be completed objectively.
"We remain positive and hopeful that we will be able to finally declare the walking route as unsafe."
Outlining its decision, the ombudsman said it had "found fault in the way the council carried out the stage two appeals process".
It has recommended the council write to all parents who appealed to inform of their right to escalate the case to a stage two appeal.
It's understood the ruling surrounded only the process rather than the question of whether the route was safe. However, it will still provide furious parents with a fresh chance to state their case.
Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for education, said: “At the request of parents the county council reassessed the walking route between Perton and Codsall in the autumn of 2018 and found it complied with national safety guidelines laid down by the Department for Education.
“In making his decision the ombudsman found no fault with the council’s decision about the suitability of the route to be walked by pupils who are not entitled to free home to school transport.
“However, the ombudsman said it was wrong that the council’s appeal process only considered written and video evidence from parents and didn’t include verbal representations.
“We accept this technicality and an independent panel will hear the appeal again, this time with the addition of a verbal presentation of their evidence.”