A step too far... School Transport
At the time of this article going to print, I find myself regularly speaking to parents who are intending to or have appealed for school places. Whilst reasons for appeals vary, I am often contacted by parents who feel that the school allocated for their child is simply too far to travel. They are equally perplexed to discover that the Local Authority does not share their view and that school transport is not available to their child. The question that this poses, therefore, is when does a Local Authority have a statutory duty to provide school transport to children? Unfortunately this is not a straightforward question and one which requires quite a deal of explanation. However, as a starting point, I have set out in this article some initial considerations.
‘Walking distance’ is the measure by which eligibility is calculated in the first instance. The definition of ‘walking distance’ is a distance calculated as two miles for children under the age of 8 and three miles for children over the age of 8. The distance is measured by the nearest available route.
If a child falls into this category, therefore, the Local Authority is not ordinarily expected to provide transport. So whilst a parent may consider the distance simply too far for their child, the law could differ and the parent is therefore faced with the prospect of arranging transport themselves.
If a child is therefore registered at a school outside of walking distance (not out of choice but out of necessity), the Local Authority is obliged to provide transport, unless other suitable travel arrangements are available.
All is not lost for children who are within walking distance of their school, provided that they are deemed ‘eligible’ under the statutory regime set out in the Education Act 1996 and supporting statutory guidance. These children include:
- - children who have special educational needs, disability or mobility problems which means that they cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school (and there are no suitable alternatives to attend school nearer to home);
- - children who live within ‘walking distance’ of their school but who could not reasonably be expected to walk due to the nature of the routes available (and there are no suitable alternatives to attend school nearer to home) – this is often the case in rural locations, for example;
- - Children aged 8-11 registered at a school more than two miles from home who are entitled to free school meals (this supersedes the 3-miles rule for children up to 11 years old);
- - Excluded children who are required to attend a school other than their registered school outside of walking distance;
- - Children over the age of 11 years old who are entitled to free school meals and who are registered at a qualifying school (as defined in the Education Act 1996).
However, there are exceptions to the rule. In the case of school transport, even where a child is deemed ‘eligible’ it is important to note that in circumstances where a child is where other suitable travel arrangements are available, the Local Authority can depart from its statutory duty.
Finally, it is important to note when choosing a school for your child that the presence of school buses at the gate each day, does not automatically mean that your child is entitled to a place on one. The duty to provide school transport is owed to an eligible child. Your child may simply not be eligible.
As you can see, School transport can be somewhat of a minefield for parents and it is important that parents understand, both when applying for school places and appealing them, when the Local Authority has a duty to provide school transport and when it does not. This may have a significant impact on choice of school.