Update on SEND discretionary school transport
Shropshire Council is set to embark on a county wide engagement exercise to seek the views and ideas from special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) communities, as well as the wider public.
The exercise will focus around how the council can change how it meets the needs of children and young people with SEND and has been prompted by the need to reduce the amount the local authority spends on discretionary transport to get eligible children and young people with SEND to their nursery, school or college.
As a rural council the local authority provides school transport to 6,000 children and young people. This equates to 1 in 6 of the total population of those of school age and 1 in 36 of those of school age with SEND.
Currently there are 166 children and young people with SEND supported under its discretionary school transport service, which costs on average, £646,000 a year for students from nursery age to post-16 education. The average cost of transport for a nursery child per annum is £4,484, for a post 16 student the average cost is £5223 per annum and for a mainstream child the average cost is £1364.
Shropshire, like most other councils, faces significant financial pressures and must find £51m of spending reductions across its services.
In July 2023, the Council’s Cabinet agreed to carry out a consultation on the proposed removal of all discretionary home to school SEND travel assistance (other than in exceptional circumstances) for nursery pupils and post-16 students.
The council is now exploring how it can do things differently while continuing to meet the needs of SEND pupils and their families. This could for example, include developing SEND provision closer to young people’s homes in the local communities, as well as looking at what SEND transport in Shropshire could look like. This links to the council’s wider school planning review and enhancing the local SEND offer across Shropshire.
These changes also include new ways to increase independence for children, young people and families, whilst balancing the costs to Shropshire Council taxpayers, including:
- Independent Travel Training, where the student is provided with support to access public transport or walk/cycle helping them to gain greater independence.
- Personal Transport Budgets where parents/carers can take control of providing transport for their child, supported by a financial payment from the council.
- Closer working with schools to consider peers sharing where possible.
- Parents’ travelling expenses.
Councillor Kirstie Hurst Knight, cabinet member for children and education, said;
“As a council we are committed to engaging with our SEND community to ensure that all services they receive, reflects the voices of children and young people with SEND and their families. Our SEND school transport is one of many services that we are currently reviewing and which we’ll be asking our SEND community for their views to ensure they continue to meet their needs.
“We want to work with the SEND community to explore how we can do things differently to ensure SEND provision is more local.
“The council wants to consider what changes, in addition to those proposed in July, we can make that can benefit children and young people with SEND and enable the council to achieve a financially sustainable position. The current arrangements for SEND transport are not financially sustainable and will need to change by 2025. However, how these changes are made has not been decided and the SEND communities’ and wider public views will first help shape any proposals put forward.
“We want the community, particularly the SEND and educational community, to work with us to develop ideas and possible solutions so that SEND transport supports those with the greatest needs and delivers better outcomes for children and young people with SEND and their families.
“Details about initial engagement events and activities to share your views will be shared with the SEND community before Christmas and in the meantime, we will be attending a range of existing community events scheduled for the next few weeks.”
The council will soon be starting a process to engage with the SEND families and the wider community, to help create options for the changes it must make for SEND school transport. This will help shape a new offer to deliver the best outcomes to SEND families, whilst providing a sustainable financial position for the residents, and Council taxpayers, of Shropshire.
Over the next few months, the council will work with the community to gather more ideas and options for changes to SEND and transport. This will include attending Early Help sessions and any other planned activities to hear the views of SEND families.
Parents carers of SEND will have an opportunity to attend a series of events being hosted by the council’s Early Help team in November. The ‘Hear From and Chat With’ sessions will offer SEND families the opportunity to hear from staff who can help, support and guide parent/carers on several topics where there’ll also be the opportunity to talk to officers and share their views around SEND school transport.
Dates and locations include:
- Mon 13 Nov, 9.30am-12.30pm, The Centre, Oswestry, SY11 1LW
- Mon 20 Nov, 9.30am-12.30pm, Sunflower House, Shrewsbury, SY1 4E
- Fri 1 Dec, 9.30am-12.30pm, Raven House, Market Drayton, TF9 3AH
- Thu 14 Dec, 9.30am-12.30pm, Helena Lane Community Centre, Ludlow, SY8 2NP
Following these sessions and other events planned for the new year, the council will undertake a public consultation in the first half of 2024. The consultation will help develop a series of proposals to change how the council supports transport for children and young people with SEND in Shropshire.
The ideas from the SEND community, and wider public, will help the council achieve the financial sustainability needed and more importantly, bring much better outcomes for children and young people and their families. Opportunities such as reducing travel times, developing more local provision and increasing independent travel opportunities will also bring environmental benefits such as reducing emissions.