Some children are eligible for free school transport. I have two boys who attend a specialist autism resource base which is 8 miles from our home. As the school is more than 2 miles away and is deemed to be the most suitable school for them we are provided with free transport to school.
Who is eligible for free school transport?
Any school age child who lives more than 3 miles from school or 2 miles for under 8s can be eligible for free school transport.
There is no distance requirement for transport if there is no safe walking route to the school. Also if a child with special educational needs cannot walk to school either due to mobility or their SEN, transport can be provided. See more on eligibility on the government website.
For many children with special educational needs the nearest suitable school can be miles from home. In some cases you may need to evidence why the school your child is attending is the most suitable for them as opposed to the schools closer to home.
School transport is often an area that is underfunded and occasionally it is suggested a child may not be eligible when they are so always double check.
Who provides school transport?
School transport is provided by your local authority often using a variety of vehicles including buses, coaches, taxis, minibuses and specialist vehicles. Some will be owned by the local authority and others will be contractors working for the local authority, this will often be local taxi or bus / coach firms.
Sending your vulnerable child on school transport
For me the thought of putting my 4 year old non-verbal child in a taxi with strangers was far scarier than starting school. As Miriam from Faith Mummy points out ‘I would never ever call a taxi and put him in unattended but the council expects this’. The first thing we teach our kids is not to get in cars with strangers yet that is what we then expect our vulnerable children to do. I was very close to getting in my car and following the taxi to make sure they took him safely to school. Thankfully we have been very lucky with great drivers and escorts on our route that I have a good relationship with.
Our kids starting school is scary it’s a huge step, school transport is a big part of that. Most parents are scared about the school transport and that’s ok. Check out this post from Laura at Brody, Me and GDD on Thinking about transport when your child with disabilities starts school.
I hated that we needed to use transport when my eldest started school but it didn’t take long for us to be happy with it. Now I love that I get that extra time at the beginning and end of the school day, I can get to the supermarket before all the other parents and be home later too so there are some benefits.
Having said that school transport does have its downfalls. A point well raised by Miriam at Faith Mummy is about the lack of contact with other parents and the school: ‘It distances the parents from the school making forming relationships with staff much harder and segregates school and home much more. It makes parents feel isolated from other parents and that can make you feel so alone too. I also feel I favour one child over the other as I get to take and collect her and not her brother which I hate. But we have had some lovely drivers and escorts who have bonded with my son and who seem to really care for him. Still get jealous that they get to do what I should be doing mind you.’
Preparing our kids for transport
One of the biggest issues most of us have with school transport is the lack of advance information. My son starts back in two days and I still haven’t had confirmation of his route, driver or escort from the local authority.
Kelly from A day in the life of severe Autism points out how frustrating this is: ‘Mine is more the last minute of it all. I hear the day before and get told the time then too. With other children to care for, it’s unacceptable.’
This is really common, often last minute places are still being agreed late in August especially for specialist schools because of EHCP hold ups. This means that routes are often agreed last minute. This is a huge stress for most of us because our kids need that information to help keep anxiety levels low.
Keep chasing for your kids needs
My best advice is to keep chasing, call up the SEN transport and school transport teams and make clear you need to know and when will they have the information. It is also my experience that local authorities are not very good at giving us visuals or providing time for us to meet the drivers. However many drivers and escorts are good at this so once you know who yours is try and get in touch. Most will be happy to meet you in advance or send photos of themselves and the vehicles. Most reception students will start later than the rest of the school so drivers / escorts will usually be able to see you in this period at the beginning of September.
Jo from First Time Valley Mam is a driver and she says: ‘As the driver I go and introduce myself. My escorts are amazing they sit and chat to the children.’
Another thing we often worry about is – what if my child won’t get in the taxi? I think this is something we worry about more than it is likely to happen. Make sure your child is prepared in advance using visuals if possible and remember if they won’t go in the taxi it is for a reason. If it’s the first time is it because they are not familiar and maybe arrangements need to be made for more time to become familiar with the vehicle and people.
Drivers, Escorts and chaperones on school transport
Drivers and Escorts or Chaperones all have to go through various checks before they will be able to do school transport and in most cases should get some training although it is often limited.
You should get the same driver and route each day but there are cases where this doesn’t happen. If you are not given consistent drivers, vehicles or chaperones do complain. It should be a priority that consistency is provided to children with special educational needs as it has a huge impact on kids that need routine and people who understand their individual needs.
I have been extremely lucky that the escort on my son’s minibus is one of the staff members from his school. Often a driver or escort will not fully understand your child’s needs but the important thing is to have a relationship where you can explain and they will adapt. If this doesn’t happen and you feel that something is not right then speak to the local authority as soon as possible. If you are struggling you can also talk to the school. I know our SENCO has had to help get transport amended for other children in the school.
Get to know your driver and escort.
Most drivers will be happy to swap numbers with you directly and it makes such a difference being able to contact them directly. My kids get picked up at 7:45 am if the transport is late the council phone lines don’t open until 8 am and even then I may not get hold of the right team until after 9 am when the kids should be at school. This is why it is so much easier if you can contact the driver directly. When your kid is sick at 4 am in the morning a quick text to the driver at 7 am means they know not to come to your house for pick up that day. There are so many reasons that it is best to swap contact details with your drivers and escorts.
Does my child need an escort / chaperone?
Not all children need an escort or chaperone, if your child can communicate their needs to a stranger and sit safely in their seat for the journey they are likely to be fine with just a driver. However if your child is unable to communicate their needs and may have times they cannot safely sit for the journey then an escort will be required. Make sure you communicate the need for an escort as soon as possible with your local authority, often there will be one escort shared between a number of children.
Gemma from Isla’s Voice explains how important these relationships can be in her post – Chaperones and bus drivers.
Does my child need a car seat on school transport?
Technically no as car seats are not required for taxis or buses. However most will advise you to have a booster or seat if that is right for your child. The majority of 4 year old’s will need a booster to see out the window on a minibus. Talk to your driver and work out what is best for you, most will need you to take the seat and fit it in the morning and come and remove it when the child is dropped off. I am not looking forward to doing this with both my boys now!
If your child may struggle on long journeys you may need to consider an extra restraint for safety. This Belt up support belt worked well for us when my son started school.
Transport can be different for many reasons
As every local authority manages transport for their area you will find many different rules in place. You will also find different rules for different students based on age and ability. Drivers and escorts will be different some will jump out of the car and help others will stay seated while you put the kids in the vehicle. If you are not sure you can start by asking other parents or the school for advice.
Some local authorities will provide support for students for post 16 education like college but not all will.
Ann from Rainbow are too beautiful found her area do pick up points rather than coming to your home: ‘Our council does pick up points. It meant we had to walk our eldest to it ourselves until we thought he could do it himself. Really awkward when you have siblings (one of whom also has additional needs).’
Some areas also pay you to provide the transport yourself as Mandi from Big Family Organised Chaos found out: ‘We were undecided about transport, as it was looking impossible trying to get 5 children in four different places at the same time, but our local council have just started offering a, personalised travel scheme, which will pay the parents 60% of the cost to take their child to school, so that’s what we have decided to do.’
Do your kids use school transport? Are you starting this year?
I had to almost sign in blood that I would not apply for school transport in order to get my daughter into the school she wanted to go to with her peers. 20 mins each way in the car twice a day but it is worth it. As usual it is made so difficult for parents who need it for their children and the criteria is very elastic in order to make as many kids fall short as possible. Grrrrr.
I am so sorry this happened to you, as you say it is very elastic and finance always seems to come before need. So unfair.