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Children Given Individual Taxis to School May Have to Share

Published on: 9 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 9 Apr, 2022

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

More children will likely have to share arranged travel to school, under new plans being drawn up by Surrey County Council. 

Rising demand and fuel costs have led to the authority considering changes to its policy on home to school travel assistance.

It costs the county council about £40 million a year, funded through council tax, to provide school transport support to about 10,000 pupils. About a third of this cost goes on journeys with just one child in a taxi.

The new policy, to be decided later this month, aims to move away from a reliance on solo taxi routes and proposes that children will only be provided with individualised transport “in very special circumstances… linked to medical needs or where the child or young person is receiving one-to-one support in their education or training venues”.

Director for Commissioning, Hayley Connor, said: “What we are seeking to do is to not have a situation where a child may travel to and from school alone and then go straight into a classroom with a number of children, that feels incongruent.”

Children would “where appropriate” be given personal travel training to enable them to take a bus or train instead.

Assistant director of Commissioning, Eamonn Gilbert, said: “A lot this is about preparing young people for employment, where being able to get to and from your place of work is an important skill.”

Surrey County Council’s financial strategy to 2026/27 expects £5.8 million of efficiencies to be found through an improved home to school transport policy.

Councillor Chris Townsend (Ashtead Independent, working with Ashtead Residents) said: “Many people will see this is purely just trying to save money.

“This is going to need a big sell because there will be many parents that won’t like this.”

Cllr Ayesha Azad

Cllr Ayesha Azad (Con, Woking South West) said: “I hate to break it to Cllr Townsend, but costs matter to residents, value for money matters to taxpayers and we need to have a service that is obviously sustainable.”

The children select committee yesterday (April 7) pushed back against one proposal, that could see school journey times increase from 45 to 75 minutes for some of 541 primary school children in Surrey.

The council said it would allow greater flexibility to consider journeys by other means and would support the proposed reduction in solo taxis.

Ms Connor said: “We are seeking flexibility to, at some time, when it makes sense to the child and when it makes sense for planning purposes, to move away from always implementing that national guidance.

“We have some very good live case examples where it makes sense for us to say, this journey may take 50 minutes but actually it is the best school for them.”

Members recommended to decision-makers that the guidance of a 45-minute maximum journey time should be kept and “only be exceeded in exceptional circumstances”.

The service has come under fire in recent years with some students being left without transport and the council is finding it difficult to secure what is needed.

Asked by Cllr Rachael Lake (Con, Walton) for assurance children would in the future have travel in place for the first day of term, Rachael Wardell, executive director for children, families and lifelong learning, said it would be dishonest of her to claim they could guarantee that.

She said: “We will absolutely be doing our best endeavours to make sure that’s so, but some of the reasons why arrangements fail are out of our hands. Very recent examples include routes being given back at short notice.

“There isn’t a large number now of providers willing and interested and able to do this work.”

A public consultation on the council’s new policy closed at the end of March and received nearly 700 responses. Seventy-three per cent were from young people with special educational needs or their parents or carers.

Here are the proposed changes and what the people who took part in the consultation thought of them:

  • Reduce reliance on one child to one vehicle transport. 59 per cent for, 28 per cent against.
  • Change maximum journey times for all children to 75 minutes. 62 per cent against, 20 per cent for.
  • Withdraw transport assistance if a child’s behaviour is unacceptable and instead give parents a mileage allowance. This would be if a child’s behaviour has been dangerous or potentially risks harm to themselves and others in the vehicle. 54 per cent, 31 per cent against. One respondent said: “If a child with SEND is displaying dangerous behaviour, then the first step should be to consider unmet needs and try to meet those needs better, rather than the removal of transport assistance.”
  • Introduce collection points rather than picking up and dropping off pupils at their home. 54 per cent, 32 per cent for. One respondent said: “My son would need to sit somewhere, as he has cerebral palsy, he would become fatigued and this would then result in a meltdown, due to his autism, lash outs, and a disastrous day ahead at school. I would then be called to collect him from school, as he would not be able to continue the day at school, with all this stress to start with.”
  • Reduce the notice period given when any travel assistance is removed, from the end of the academic year down to four weeks. 54 per cent for, 31 per cent against.
  • Remove discretionary travel assistance for under fours, affecting 169 children. 63 per cent for, 10 per cent against.
  • Appeals will continue to be a two-stage process but the panel will include council officers as well as councillors. 30 per cent for, 27 per cent against.

Pupils may require travel support because of additional needs set out in and education, health and care plan (EHCP), or because they live so far away from a school or there is no public transport available.

Long-term the council plans to invest £139 million to create more school places which will help to reduce demand for travel support.

The new travel assistance policy will be decided by cabinet on April 26.

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test 2 Responses to Children Given Individual Taxis to School May Have to Share

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    April 9, 2022 at 5:46 pm

    This is an extremely difficult situation. One child I dealt with had a perspex screen around him because he was likely to lash out at the driver or other passengers while others simply are not tall enough to get into a car seat. It could end up more expensive.

    Every single child will need reassessment, for emotional and physical requirements before changes can be made safely.

    I caution extreme care.

  2. Mark Stamp Reply

    April 9, 2022 at 7:07 pm

    Beyond saving money, this is another step to saving the planet. Transport is one of the biggest sources of emissions in the county and higher occupancy of vehicles will help reduce emissions. These vehicles will be exacerbating congestion and air pollution around schools, affecting all children.

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