Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have expressed concerns that their children will be unable to attend school due to the failure of the council to provide adequate transport.
Nicola Leadbetter is a parent who relies heavily on home to school transport for her daughter with SEND. She says that transport is imperative for her child to get to and from school.
“I have had to fight to get transport for my daughter. She has met criteria because of her educational health care plan (EHCP), but nothing made a difference, I was still turned down.”
A report last year by the ISOS partnership, a research and advisory company, revealed that in the years 2017-2018 the overall national cost of home to school transport (mainstream and SEN transport) had increased to £1.8 billion, from £1.2 billion in the years 2014-2015.
Birmingham City Council are encouraging more children with SEND to receive training to help them become independent travellers. The idea is to help children become less reliant on home to school transport, reducing the overall national cost of sending children to school.
However, using public transport is not always suitable for children with SEND.
“I was told to catch the bus with my daughter who uses a wheelchair. Not only does she have mobility problems, but sensory issues too, so sending her on a packed public bus would be overwhelming for her. It is just not acceptable.”
Labour Councillor Kath Scott says there is an educational need within the local authority to explain what sensory issues are:
“It is a really big gap in the knowledge base,” she says “I think the LA need to also be trauma informed, because there is a big gap there as well in terms of how they make decisions. If they had been trauma informed, they would know that putting children in certain situations could cause enormous trauma for that child.”
According to Kath Scott, there is also a push for more investment and a better relationship between the council and Birmingham’s parent carer forum, which act as a bridge between local authority services and families.
“The parent carer forum consists of six people, all of which have children with special educational needs. It is a big ask to put such a responsibility on those people to represent the whole of the city in all its diversity, currently.”
Kath says that it is vital the council invest more time and money into the parent carer forum, so that they can begin to have a better working relationship with parents who rely heavily on home to school transport in the future.
The head of home to school transport for Birmingham City Council, Mark Hudson, admits that the current transport system is failing and a new improvement plan is being implemented to address the issues.
“The provision of transport costs over £20 million a year. We need to make sure as a council that we are operating efficiently and for the best value for money.”
The plan will address four key issues, including a communications plan with parents and the parent carer forum, new technology where parents will be able to track the vehicle their child is on, training for drivers and guides, and having a new staff structure within the department.
“One thing we are looking into at the moment is online training for our guides, which would improve safeguarding, handling and dealing with difficult situations.” He says “our aim is to make sure we provide what the customers are entitled to. It should be driven by the needs of the pupil.”
Mark says improvements to the service will take place up until the end of March next year.
“It’s a recovery plan. I know from getting feedback from [council]members and the parent carer forum that they’re really pleased with the plan we are putting in place to improve this area of service.”
A scrutiny meeting about the issues of home to school transport for children with SEND was due to be put to Birmingham City Council at the beginning of April, but it is now on hold until the current lockdown measures are relaxed.