School transport changes proposed

Russell Hargrave reports on a council consultation that could have a big impact

Doubts over the future of school transport services are being voiced as new plans for supporting vulnerable children are drawn up.

Waltham Forest Council is seeking to amend its ‘Home to School Assistance Policy’ which sets the support available to young people who need extra help getting to and from school, mostly because of special educational needs and disabilities.

The council wants to replace the existing policy with two separate policies; one for pupils aged five to 16 years and another for students aged 16 and over. A public consultation closes on 10th June.

One person who has responded to the consultation is Walthamstow resident Danny Herbert, whose 14-year-old son Charlie has autism and catches a bus to school laid on under the existing policy.

Danny praised the importance of this provision to his son’s independence. He said: “Charlie is quite vulnerable for his age, so the bus is fantastic. It’s a really good service.”
But the father is worried that moves to alter these services could have a significant impact.

“Transport is a huge part of Charlie’s routine, and any change is huge for people with autism. There have already been cuts, and life is harder.”

Currently, the council takes account of four conditions affecting children’s transport needs, including physical, learning, communication, and emotional difficulties. The consultation suggests circumstances under which mainstream public transport might be suitable to pupils, potentially narrowing support criteria. However, it also lists new categories for extending support, including ‘risk of danger’ on mainstream transport. The document stresses a child’s right to education and independence..

The council spends around £3million a year on travel assistance. A spokesperson said: “Waltham Forest Council has conducted an impact review into the effects of changes and this informed both a subsequent consultation. This will form part of the cabinet report seeking approval to adopt the policies, dependent on the outcomes from the consultation.”

To respond to the council’s school transport consultation before it closes on 10th June: