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Mum Hits Out at County Council Over School Transport

Published on: 24 Sep, 2021
Updated on: 26 Sep, 2021

SCC did not arrange school transport in time for Pippa Edwards, 8-year-old SEN pupil. Image – Emma Edwards

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

A mum has hit out at Surrey County Council for leaving her eight-year-old autistic girl without school transport for up to three weeks.

The busy GP, Sarah Edwards, and her husband Charles are now having to maximise their use of annual leave, putting more pressure on her doctor’s surgery, to take her daughter with special educational needs on the 40-mile round trip from Woking.

Mrs Edwards, who at the same time needs to get their four-year-old and 11-year-old to school, said: “Their business approach is woefully not fit for purpose. The inefficiency is beyond belief, and our children are suffering as a result.

“They didn’t sort the travel early enough, despite me doing everything I was asked to do. It’s a small piece of the jigsaw, but it has a catastrophic effect.”

The county council said is it not able to comment on any individual children, adding it is “committed to improving outcomes for children” with special educational needs and disabilities.

18-month fight

After an 18-month fight involving three rounds of special educational needs (SEN) panels, Mrs Edwards was delighted to secure her choice of placement for Pippa, who has autism spectrum disorder.

She said Pippa, whose pathological demand avoidance means just getting out of the house can be a struggle, was in a mainstream school before but now she “skips into school – she’s got her smile back”.

But it seems the struggle is not yet over. She and husband Charles are sharing the driving as they don’t want to put Pippa in a taxi with someone who’s not been DBS checked. But next week they have no idea how she’ll get to her “phenomenally expensive” council-funded placement.

Mrs Edwards said she is not about to let their daughter miss a single day unnecessarily. The exact cost is not known but a specialist place in an independent school costs Surrey an average of £53,000 a year.

She applied for travel assistance when Pippa’s placement was authorised in July. The acknowledgement email asked not to enquire about progress as it would cause delays, so she said she later emailed only to inform them of her start date.

But having heard nothing back by the week before, she rang the travel assistance team and found out the SEN team had not updated them, their case officer had left and there was no transport in place.

What Surrey County Council said

A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: ”We always work in the best interests of every child and family, but we are not able to comment on any individual children.

“We recognise that there are significant challenges around delivering support for children with special educational needs and disabilities and we are committed to improving outcomes for these children so that they are happy, healthy, safe and confident about their future, and grow up with the same opportunities as their peers.”

Mrs Edwards said: “It is so exhausting having to fight for my child during this process and hold down a professional job and run a family. I’ve had enough of fighting so hard to get what she needs.”

She said she recognises she is far from being alone.

She said: “It’s like a full-time job trying to get your child with SEN sorted, trying to recognise what a child needs and getting an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP).”

“So many families are in turmoil about this. I see it at work on a very regular basis. There’s children gone through whole key stages of school without having an assessment. How are families supposed to cope?”

Demand for EHCPs rising

The county council’s audit committee was told earlier this week nearly 11,000 Surrey pupils have an EHCP outlining their additional needs, up from around 5,000 five years ago.

At the beginning of the autumn term last year, some parents had to transport their children to school themselves because of delays to the county council’s transport provision.

The county council reimbursed parents nearly £86,750 and made £11,200 remedy payments after receiving 134 complaints on the matter, mostly from parents whose children hold EHCPs.

The authority’s head of customer strategy and futures said delays were due to a change in the way the transport policy was applied, as well as the impact of coronavirus restrictions.

She said: “An improvement plan for the full end-to-end home to school transport process is in the process of being delivered.”

 

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test One Response to Mum Hits Out at County Council Over School Transport

  1. Mark Pullen Reply

    September 26, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    They say “they don’t want to put Pippa in a taxi with someone who’s not been DBS checked”.

    All taxi drivers are DBS checked so that shouldn’t be a reason not to use one.

    There are also various local transport companies that specifically conduct transport for passengers with additional needs.

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