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How can we look to combat the national deficit of SEN/D Transport?

Posted by: Ailidh Tullis 23 Aug 18  | Advice |  Current Issues |  Education |  Government |  Public Sector

School transport is an integral part of every child’s education. It can set the tone for not only the child’s journey but their day at school and ultimately, their ability to learn.

In England, Home-to-School Transport sits outside Special Educational Needs (SEN) Law, but it is part of general law across Education. With tight criteria that determines whether said child is entitled to transport assistance an inquiry released by “Contact” a Charity focused on providing support for families who have children with SEN and Disabilities stated that a staggering “48% of parents with disabled children can’t work or had to reduce hours because of school travel arrangements” and that “23% of parents say their disabled child struggles to learn because of a stressful journey to school”.

I wanted to gain thoughts from true experts in the market place, as to what their thoughts were and whether this view was shared on a national scale from those on the “front line”. What is being done to solve what can only be deemed a national deficit?

I spoke with SEN Transport Specialist Jennie Lucas – Interim SEND Travel Consultant with Bedford Borough Council and asked about struggles her, and service users, encounter on a daily basis.

Q: What have you found to be a common area of concern for parents and families?

A:  “Over the years of working in SEN transport in many different authorities one of the things that is apparent is the fact that this is a very emotive subject and rightly so.

Parents experience around where the most appropriate school is to meet their child’s needs can often be a good distance away and getting the most appropriate transport is often a challenge. The idea of putting their child into transport with strangers to travel many miles to an unfamiliar setting is often a big challenge for parents. Combined also with on many occasions a lack of training for the Passenger Assistants who accompany the pupils has increased the anxiety parents have.

With reduced funding many LA’s have taken the decision to charge or withdraw any Post 16 SEN transport although the SEND reforms point to the fact they could be in education until 25 so I welcome the review currently being undertaken around the law and the reforms .

A lot of the work I do is around the education of professionals who are involved with families about how pivotal conversations are around transport and how we plan to assist the families getting to the closest school to meet child’s needs. Also helping councils see we can be innovative and creative with the limited resources they have to ensure we work along with any outcomes in their EHCP.

Working closely with Parent Forums, SEND advice and all LA departments involved with SEN enables a joined up approach and one stop shop for families around questions and concerns they have.”

Many have called for a review of the statutory guidance surrounding SEN Transport which would aim to strengthen policies by development and aligning current need. By means of consultation, could we look to strengthen the service and ensure best practice and achieve those what seems impossible budget targets?

I spoke to Stephen Good - an extremely experienced SEND Transport Consultant across the Greater London area: shares his experiences over the last couple of years:

Q: “What have you found to be the most common problem areas in SEN/D Transport? What have you found to be the most positive route to securing positive outcomes?”

A:  “We are finding that many Councils have delayed reviewing their SEN Transport/Travel Assistance offer due to its emotive nature and risk of public challenge. As a result, demand and spend continues to increase at a faster rate than those who have completed reviews and now offer a more comprehensive travel assistance offer, including a wider range of alternative travel options such as Independent Travel Training and Personal Transport Budgets.

Where Councils have not updated their travel assistance offer this has enabled the embedding of parental expectation and culture where it is believed that if a child has SEND then they will be entitled to a taxi/transport.

To unpick this and influence changing behaviours and culture, Councils need to undertake reviews and changes to travel delivery options through co-design and engagement. Where we have lead and supported Councils we have championed this approach in order to manage the transition of changes the Council is implementing. With the right engagement and opportunity to influence the final solution this has resulted in very few challenges/appeals which has enabled a smooth transition. Examples where this approach has been successful includes designing the decision making process for eligibility and the forms of travel assistance that will be offered.

We are also finding more and more Councils are reviewing what alternative travel options they offer. Independent Travel Training has been used as an alternative travel option by many Councils for over 10 years, however with Council staff leaving, expertise has been lost - including understanding how travel training works and how to support as many young people as possible to be trained to travel independently. As a result, more and more Councils are reviewing their Independent Travel Training programmes to establish if opportunities are being maximised. We are supporting a number of Council to either review their existing programmes or set up new ones either by commissioning an external provider or setting up the necessary systems, processes and training to deliver the programme internally with Council employees.”

The debate on the importance of SEND Travel Assistance and the provision it is provided is one that continues year in year out, but what are we doing to combat this? Without appropriate funding in place and the ever rising number of pupils who require SEN travel assistance, how can we look to provide safe and effective travel for those who urgently need it? And without it, risk difficulties in gaining not only independence to travel to school, but their ability to learn?

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If you would like a confidential conversation to discuss your thoughts on this matter, or if would simply like to discuss potential opportunities across Education - please do not hesitate to contact Ailidh Tullis or a member of the team on 0117 313 7110.

 

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