The Sub-Committee received a report that outlined the key issues in respect of the provision of travel assistance for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
It was noted that the Education Act 1996 requires Local Authorities to make suitable and where eligible, free travel arrangements for ‘eligible children’ as they consider necessary to facilitate attendance of school or college and this duty underpins the Council’s policy. There was a requirement to refresh and re-publish the Council’s policy annually.
The Council’s policy was written in conjunction with the following regulations:
· Education Act 1996
· Special Educational Needs and Disabilities 0-25 years Code of Practice 2014
· Home to School Travel and Transport Guidance 2016
· Post 16 Transport to Education and Training 2019
The Council’s policy was underpinned by the following principles:
· It is the parent/guardian’s responsibility to ensure that their children attend school regularly
· The use of existing provision such as free travel on public transport will be encouraged wherever possible
· Students who are able to travel independently, use public transport or be transported to school by a parent/guardian or other appropriate person are encouraged to do so
· Students who have additional travel needs are offered the most independent and personally enabling solution for their situation
· All travel options are explored for students and any assistance offered will look at what is efficient and effective, both in terms of sustainability and cost – where travel assistance is provided, the most cost-effective mode of transport that meets the individual’s needs must always be used
· The travel needs of students will be reviewed regularly to ensure the arrangements are still appropriate for their assessed needs
Most children and young people will access school and college without additional assistance from the Council. Where assistance is given, it should be seen as part of a plan of support that encourages children and young people to become more independent and resilient in their future lives.
As part of the Transport for London service, children and young people in full time education can travel free and at a discounted fare on public transport, up until they turn 18 and finish education. Children under five can also travel for free on public transport with a fare paying adult. For support above and beyond what is available for free from Transport for London, the Council may provide further travel assistance.
The eligibility criteria sets out who is defined as eligible for support from the Council, which is applied in conjunction with the Council’s principles for offering travel assistance. The eligibility criteria and the type of travel assistance that may be offered differs depending on the age of the student, their needs and the circumstances of the family.
The types of travel assistance available to children and young people, following a local authority assessment, include:
· A free space on the travel training programme to build confidence travelling and gain the skills required to do so independently, or with support
· Reimbursement of fuel for an identified person to perform a maximum of four journeys per day
· A seat on a bus with pick up at a designated meeting point
· A seat on a bus with pick up outside of the dwelling
· A taxi
Following an assessment to determine eligibility, all students are considered firstly for a space on the travel training programme or for fuel reimbursement. If these are not appropriate, a direct transport service may be arranged.
The Sub-Committee noted that the budget for travel assistance for children and young people was £3m and expenditure for 2019-20 was forecasted at £3.46m.
The demand for travel assistance was increasing and applications received during the 19-20 renewal period have risen by almost 70 compared to last year.
The report also highlighted the continued overspend on budgets for the service over the last three financial years, which highlights the need to respond differently to the needs of the borough.
The most frequently accessed mode of travel assistance have been the provision of a seat on a passenger transport bus. Following a change in practice against the policy, a shift have seen other modes of travel assistance to meet people’s needs such as Taxi, Fuel reimbursement, Travel training and Exceptional/multiple.
The Sub-Committee was informed that aspart of the 19-20 annual refresh of the policy, the following refinements in practice were introduced:
· Increasing the offer and incentive for parents to take up fuel reimbursement in order to safely transport their children to school.
· Working with the market to increase the capacity for independent travel training therefore increasing the number of referrals made for students to be assessed for their ability to travel independently
· Developing an online ‘eligibility checker’ tool which supports parents/guardians new to travel assistance to check whether their child may be eligible before they apply, and to signpost to other options in the community that may best support them
· Strengthening the internal processes to assess and manage applications/appeals; ensuring adequate intelligence is gained about a family’s circumstance.
· Shifting outcome notifications to being online instead of postal, to enable a faster response to parents/guardians.
The Sub-Committee noted following actions to further manage demand and budget
1. There was a need to change the way that travel assistance was provided to a more flexible service that is able to meet changing demand and one that promotes resilience and independence in the community. In order to deliver this objective, the service had been identified as one of the Council’s ‘transformation’ projects reporting under the ‘Communities’ theme.
2. The matter of meeting people’s needs would not be compromised during the flex in service, but may be met in a different way.
3. A number of lessons learned after the 19-20 renewal period had led to set further recommendations to practice and policy. This included looking at promoting independent travel training and working with schools, case officers and families to view travel training as part of the wider independence promoting plan.
4. Another recommendations was the recruitment of a travel assistance assessment officer, with the aim to act as a dedicated liaison within the council who would provide support through the application process, work with families on the most appropriate travel solutions and provide good information and advice to parents/guardians, schools and other members of the community.
The report indicated that in order to monitor the impact of the practice changes, discussions were held at a Parent forum in November, to discuss the renewal period and seek feedback on the application process that had taken place. This was also an opportunity to discuss options for the next academic year.
The report informed that the Local Authority had started to increase its independent travel training offer and availability, the Council had arranged for its Young Advisors to collect views from students and parents about how the service works. This was being supported by easy read feedback sheets with support from Advocacy for All.
The Sub-Committee noted the Council was part of a London Borough Travel Assistance Group, which seeks to share information, issues, best practice and opportunities for the future of service provision. It was stated that Havering would continue to participate in such groups to share information about options and learn from other initiatives.
During a brief discussion the Sub-Committee requested further information on the average journey time on the passenger transport bus at a future meeting.
It was confirmed that parents and other users of the SEND transport were aware of the consultation and have responded.
The Sub-Committee noted the comments of the report.