School and post-16 travel FAQs
1. Why is Suffolk County Council proposing to make changes?
In Suffolk, £21 million of taxpayers’ money is spent per year getting children to and from school and college. That’s £3 million more than the annual budget for it. Suffolk County Council has already introduced a number of efficiency changes to the service saving around £2.6 million.
Now, like many other councils across the country, the authority needs to consider making more significant changes. It is therefore consulting on changing its school and post-16 travel policies so the service can be affordable, sustainable, and capable of meeting growing demand in the future.
The council’s current school and post-16 travel policies go above legal requirements, which means around 2400 children and young people receive free/subsided school or post-16 travel that Suffolk County Council is not legally required to provide and that they wouldn’t get in other parts of the country. In addition, around 2400 children receive free travel to schools further away than legally required. The proposed consultation seeks views on changing these policies and includes three alternative options, pre-and post-16:
- Option 1: In September 2019, change the school travel policy so that it is in line with the legal requirements. This would mean implementing all the changes in one go, including ceasing free travel to the transport priority area schools where it is not the pupils’ nearest.
- Option 2: From September 2019, introduce the changes year by year as a child joins or moves school so that it is in line with legal requirements. This means that we would introduce all the changes on a phased basis. This option would cost Suffolk County Council an estimated £8.8 million to implement.
- Option 3: Make no changes to the school travel policy but make savings from other services provided by Suffolk County Council.
Suffolk County Council is also asking for feedback on several other matters, including using Rights of Way as part of the way distance to a school is measured and a range of local solutions, such as local collection hubs and opt-in to travel, which we have developed with a range of schools.
Further details on these options can be found in the consultation document (PDF, 5.1MB).
We would propose to continue to offer all other legal requirements in terms of school travel, i.e. the extended rights to free travel if the family is on free school meals or maximum working tax credit.
2. What savings have you made so far to the budget for School Travel?
In the last two years, we have made £2.6 million savings to school and post-16 travel costs, by:
- Training students with special educational needs and disabilities to use public transport rather than rely on expensive taxis.
- Setting up a new taxi company which has reduced the cost of transporting students to a special school in Bury St Edmunds.
- Increasing the number of places for special educational needs and disabilities students to be educated in Suffolk, and therefore reducing the cost of transporting children out of county.
- Making journey planning more efficient by investing in route planning software.
- Giving selected families money to arrange or provide their own transport, rather than us arranging transport on their behalf.
- Increasing the competition between suppliers when buying school transport to help drive prices down.
Reasons for increased costs are:
- An increase in labour cost due to competition for commercial drivers at the Ports and local delivery services.
- Reduced number of primary school places having a disproportionate impact on distances and volumes.
- More travel offers being available following the introduction of 2-tier schooling.
- Low numbers of taxi services and commercial bus/coach operators in areas such as west Suffolk and Lowestoft.
- Complexity of need for children with SEND leading to an increase in solo travel by taxi.
- An increase in the costs for providing travel arrangements for children and young people attending pupil referral units.
- An increase in the number of children and young people with SEND requiring specialist provision outside Suffolk, together with an increase in price of travel arrangements to those placements.
- An increase in the number of nursery age children who have travel arrangements provided.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has recently completed a national survey of the challenges in school travel funding. Their conclusion is that the crisis hitting school travel is of a similar scale to that affecting children’s social care and placements.
3. Is there other money you can use to pay for school travel, like council reserves?
The revenue budgets for the council are already fully committed. In addition, the use of council service reserves is not a sustainable option to fund School Travel.
Find out more information on Suffolk County Council’s budget including how this is agreed each year.
4. What is our legal requirement?
There are different legal requirements for school and post-16 travel and these are summarised in the consultation document on page 6.
Our legal responsibilities for children age 5-16
||What we legally have to provide
||Anything extra we provide (discretionary offer)
a) Statutory walking distance
Provide free transport for pupils of compulsory school age if their nearest suitable school that can accommodate them is:
- Beyond two miles (if below the age of 8); or
- Beyond three miles (if aged between 8 and 16).
Transport to the Transport Priority Area school(s) where the distance is more than two or three miles, according to age.
Provide transport to children in the reception year group before their 5th birthday.
Local arrangements in Bury St Edmunds, for Free Schools and to prioritise Suffolk schools.
b) Unsafe route
Make transport arrangements for children (aged 5 to 16) who cannot reasonably be expected to walk, accompanied by an adult, to the nearest suitable school because the nature of the route is deemed unsafe to walk.
Also offer this for the Transport Priority Area school(s) whether nearest or not.
c) Special educational needs, disability or mobility issue
Make transport arrangements for all children who cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school, accompanied as necessary, because of their mobility problems or because of associated health and safety issues related to their special educational needs or disability.
d) Extended rights
Provide free transport where pupils are entitled to free school meals or their parents are in receipt of maximum Working Tax Credit if:
- the nearest suitable school is beyond two miles (for children over the age of 8 and under 11);
- the school is between two and six miles (if aged 11 to 16 and there are not three or more suitable nearer schools);
- the school is between two and 15 miles and is the nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion or belief (aged 11 to 16).
Our legal responsibilities for post-16 young people
||What we legally have to provide
||Anything extra we provide (discretionary offer)
There is no duty on local authorities to provide free school transport to persons of sixth form age. The Education Act 1996 requires that the Council must prepare a transport policy statement annually.
The transport policy statement must specify the arrangements for the provision of transport that the Council considers it necessary to make for facilitating the attendance of persons of sixth form age receiving education or training at institutions.
Subsidised travel to the nearest sixth form or Post-16 centre, where the student lives more than three miles away.
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5. Have admission arrangements for September 2019 been agreed?
No, each individual admission authority is responsible for setting its own arrangements for each year. The timeline for consulting on a school’s admission arrangements is a 6-week period between 1 October 2017 and 31 January 2018 for September 2019 admissions. The admission arrangements must be determined by 28 February 2018 by each admission authority and published by March 2018.
We consulted on our arrangements between 2 October 2017 and 13 November 2017. The Cabinet will be asked to determine these arrangements on 23 January 2018. Information for parents on the admission arrangements will be published by 12 September 2018.
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School Travel and Post 16 proposals for school year 2019
6. My child currently gets free travel organised by their school as they are not entitled through Suffolk County Council’s current policy. Will these proposals affect this offer?
No, if transport is offered (either at full cost, subsidised or free) by your child’s current school, this would be a local arrangement with your child’s school. It would be for the school to keep you updated with their current offer.
Should an agreement be made by a school or multi academy trust to provide the home to school transport, but they then ended this agreement or failed to provide the service, we would provide what is legally required for eligible children. We would not provide anything above the legal requirements that the school or multi academy trust may have agreed local with families.
7. My nearest suitable school is one which has been deemed by Ofsted to be Inadequate (or Requires Improvement), therefore can my child get free travel to a different school?
It would not be proposed as part of our future school travel policy to give free travel to a different school in such circumstances. It would be unfair for us to consider Ofsted ratings when assessing free home to school travel. Further, most of schools in Suffolk are judged by Ofsted as Good or Outstanding and this number has been increasing. Families need to decide before making their preferences what is most important to them; such as to attend a school of parental preference which is further away from home, or to select the school where free travel would be offered.
8. If I could not afford to pay for more than one of my children to travel to school, would I have to send them to separate schools?
Each child is assessed for school travel individually, regardless of having an older or younger sibling. It is for each family to consider what are the most appropriate travel arrangements and accordingly decide on which schools they wish their children to attend. Some families on low incomes can receive extended travel arrangements for free as detailed in FAQ 4 above on the council’s legal duties.
9. What makes a school a ‘nearest suitable school’?
A nearest suitable school is a “qualifying school” with places available that is appropriate to the age, ability and aptitude of the child and any special educational needs that the child may have.
A qualifying school is:
- a community, foundation or voluntary school;
- a community or foundation special school;
- an academy school, including free school;
- a non-maintained special school;
- a pupil referral unit or an alternative provision Academy;
- a maintained nursery school; or
- a city technology college or a city college for the technology of the arts.
10. How do you measure distance for admissions and transport?
For admissions to community and voluntary controlled schools, we use a straight-line distance measurement to prioritise pupils for school places. Schools which set their own admissions policies may have different oversubscription criteria. If they have a distance criteria for admissions they may measure it in a different way, which will be described in their policy.
In comparison, for eligibility for travel arrangements we should measure routes in accordance with the Department of Education’s statutory guidance. This guidance states the route should be measured “by the shortest available route along which a child, accompanied as necessary, may walk safely”. As such, the route measured may include footpaths, bridleways, and other pathways; as well as other recognised routes.
11. How do I find out what my nearest suitable school would be?
We have published a school checker on the consultation website. This will provide you with the three nearest schools to your home address. To be the nearest suitable school, a school must be able to accommodate the child (this is regardless of whether the parent has expressed a preference for that school). Maps showing the nearest school are available lower down this webpage.
Currently the maps only show a single nearest school. This will include the nearest suitable school out of county, where applicable.
12. I want to know if I will be eligible for free transport under the proposals to go to nearest suitable school with a place available, how can I find out?
You would be assessed for eligibility for free transport at a time an application is made for transport.
13. Would Suffolk County Council include Rights of Way in the distance definition?
Currently, we have not included all possible Rights of Way within these shortest route distance measurements. However, it is proposed as part of the consultation to include all Rights of Way, for the purposes of assessing eligibility to school travel in the future.
14. In Suffolk there are many Rights of Way and some of these are not passable at certain times of the year, how will these affect the distance measurement for a family to accompany their child to school?
Rights of Way would only be used in the distance measurement where they are available all year round. If a path is regularly not passable then it would not be used for the measurement. The Education Transport Appeals Committee will consider such cases.
15. I live in Suffolk and want to know what the impact would be for me if Rights of Way were included in the transport distance measurement for eligibility?
We have published a school checker on the consultation website. This will provide you with the three nearest schools to your home address both including and not including rights of way in the measurement.
16. I live in a rural area of Suffolk and the only bus / coach which serves the village is the school bus. My child doesn’t attend the nearest school, so if they were no longer eligible for free home to school travel how would I get my child to school in the future?
As part of the future proposed arrangements Suffolk County Council is looking to support schools, colleges, commercial bus operators and others to run new routes to schools and colleges in the future.
This would mean that we would act as a facilitator between parents and young people, and potential bus operators when, for example, schools develop such transport plans.
17. I’ve looked at the Local Solutions Menu in the Consultation document, how will these help my child get to school?
The Local Solutions menu found in the consultation paper from page 22 to 25, these can be used to assist families and mitigate impact with options 1, 2 and 3. Schools, colleges, local communities and/or parish councils would need to agree upon these locally and underwrite them. Suffolk County Council would need to agree the detail, prior to implementation.
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Transport Priority Areas
18. What is a Transport Priority Area (TPA)?
Under the current policy, as long as the pupil meets the usual age and distance requirements, a pupil living within a Transport Priority Area (TPA) will be able to receive free travel arrangements to that school.
Even though in many cases they may be geographically the same, a TPA in respect of travel arrangements is completely separate from any defined area (often referred to as a Catchment Area) which might give a pupil priority for entry into a school in the Schools Admissions Process.
In areas where free schools have opened they may be different. Find details of current TPAs under school catchment areas.
19. I like the idea that there are Catchment Areas for admissions arrangements and Transport Priority Areas for school transport. It really makes it very easy for us to make our preferences for school places and know we are guaranteed transport, why can this not continue?
Such a model for the future is unlikely to be practical, because an increasing number of schools who set their own admissions policy, for example academies and free schools, are not using catchment areas as a way to prioritise how school places are offered. Also, if new reduced TPAs were created to show the nearest school these would need to be continually adjusted, as new streets and houses are built. We are publishing a school checker, to assist families, as we appreciate it is very important to know which is your child’s nearest school for transport purposes.
20. I currently receive free transport to the Transport Priority Area school, would this continue if a policy detailed under Option 1 came into effect from September 2019?
Under Option 1, the proposal is to remove Transport Priority Areas all in one go and no longer provide free transport for children aged 5-16 who are not attending their nearest suitable school from September 2019. The current policy does not promise that pupils will receive such free travel throughout their time at a school. Therefore, if the proposals go ahead, certain pupils would only be entitled to receive free school travel until 31 August 2019.
21. I currently receive free transport to the Transport Priority Area school, would this continue if a policy detailed under Option 2 came into effect from September 2019?
Under Option 2 of the Consultation; a child would remain eligible for transport to their current school if they are receiving free transport in the school year starting September 2018 and are aged 5-16. Children joining as new entrants from September 2019 would be assessed under the new policy. If a child moved address, they would be reassessed using the policy in place at that time.
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22. What is an exception policy?
This would provide a way for us to help families who have a very significant, exceptional and special case that makes it impossible for the parent(s) or carer(s) to make arrangements for their child or children to travel to and from school each day. Any such request would have to be made in writing, with evidence provided, so that it could be considered by County Council officers at the Individual Needs Travel Group panel.
23. If my personal circumstances change and my child becomes entitled to Free School Meals, would I be eligible for free home to school travel?
Where the Council is notified of the change in circumstances then we would be able to reassess your child’s eligibility under the ‘Extended Rights to Free School Travel’, which is part of the minimum requirements. For more information, see Suffolk on Board's policies and guidance.
24. My child receives Free School Meals, and under the ‘Extended Rights to Free Travel’ there is the offer to one of my three nearest ‘suitable’ secondary schools between two and six miles, as set out in the Education Act 1996, but I only have one school within six miles.
We have identified that about a quarter of Suffolk families would not have a second or third nearest school within six miles. Generally, there would be a space available at the nearest school, but there is unlikely to be the option to support parental preference to the second or third nearest school with free travel arrangements. The exception to this would be where your nearest school does not have an available place to accommodate your child.
25. My child is not receiving Free School Meals as we do not qualify, but we are still a low income family, what do I do next?
We would help all families to consider alternative travel arrangements, including informal car sharing and routes that are run by others, such as public transport services and communities. Equally, individual schools may be able to assist.
The menu of local solutions is designed to help schools, parish councils and colleges to create sustainable local travel arrangements as well. Also, the exceptions policy will be available for families.
26. If my child were to lose their eligibility to free school travel, what should I do?
We would encourage all families to support their child’s continued attendance at their current school or college. We would offer to help others run transport so families can purchase seats and promote sustainable travel options (for example walk, cycle, park & stride, or organise informal car sharing arrangements).
We have worked with a group of schools to develop the menu of local solutions to help mitigate the impact of the changes.
We have published sustainable travel options and these can be found at www.suffolkonboard.com/smot.
In individual exceptional family cases, we would consider these, based on supporting professional evidence, where a child was at a critical point in their education, and they were unable to maintain a suitable travel option.
27. Can my school assist me?
All Schools in Suffolk have a School Travel Plan, which should include information on sustainable travel arrangements such as walking, cycling, park & stride, and informal car sharing. Some schools already run their own transport for pupils who are not eligible for free travel.
28. Would my young child be expected to travel unaccompanied on a public bus to school?
A parent is responsible for their child while they are travelling on school transport whether this is a school bus, public bus, taxi or minibus. The driver has a duty of care for the passenger on the vehicle but the driver does not have loco parentis rights (as teachers do). Parents need to decide whether their child is able to travel unaccompanied on a public bus or if they need to accompany them as support.
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29. The route(s) to my child’s school from my home are not safe, would this mean that I would continue to receive free home to school travel?
If it is the nearest suitable school and the Education Transport Appeals Committee has determined there are no safe routes, then you would continue to receive free travel.
30. What is travel training?
We offer training to help young people with Special Educational Needs to travel independently to and from school. The training is delivered on a one to one basis to meet the individual needs of each learner. The aim is to give them confidence to travel independently from their home to school or college and to develop this important life skill.
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31. My child attends the nearest faith secondary school and I am on low income, would this still mean I lose my eligibility?
This would depend on whether you meet the Extended Low Income criteria for schools of parent’s religion or belief see Section (d) of the Legal Requirements Table in the consultation document on page 7.
32. My nearest school is a faith school, would my child have to go to this school if I want free transport for my child?
Yes, providing your child can secure a place at this faith school. If you are unsuccessful at getting a place at this faith school, then transport would be available to the next nearest school (providing the usual age and distance criteria are still met).
If you meet the Extended Low Income criteria (see Section (d) of the Legal Requirements Table in the consultation document on page 7) you may have an additional entitlement to transport.
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Schools in Bury St Edmunds
33. I live in the Bury St Edmunds area, and as part of the School Organisation Review we were advised that we would have transport to a choice of different schools, each of which could provide my child with a suitable education. Do the proposals affect me?
The changes previously made to the transport policy arrangements in the Bury St Edmunds area were to ensure all pupils had transport to a two-tier school subject to age and distance. The proposals for Bury St Edmunds are designed to ensure that this continues to be the case.
For the Bury St Edmunds area, the main proposals that we are consulting on are as follows:
- We would, subject to the usual age and distance criteria, offer free travel arrangements to the nearest school irrespective of whether it is a two or three-tier school. This is the legal minimum requirement that the council has a statutory duty to offer.
- Additionally, we would also offer, subject to the usual age and distance criteria, free travel arrangements to the nearest two-tier school.
- St Benedict’s Catholic School is split over two sites, one to the south (years 7-8) and one to the north (years 9-13) of the town centre, this would mean that because King Edward VI Upper School is between the two sites then the nearest school to a child’s home could change between years 8 and 9. Consequently, in order to stop some relevant children needing to change schools after year 8 we would offer those children, subject to the usual age and distance criteria, free travel arrangements to either St Benedict’s or the nearest two-tier secondary school for all years 7-11. It will be noted that if children live under 3 miles from one of the St Benedict’s’ sites but live over 3 miles to the other, then such free travel arrangements would be either removed or added when the child moves site after year 8.
34. Under Option 2, ‘Children aged 5-16 years old, introduce the changes year by year as a child joins or moves school so that it is in line with legal requirements’, would there be any protection for a child who received free travel in Year 5 to a middle school to continue to receive free transport in September 2019 for one year only?
With Option 2, there would be no need to provide a protection, as the policy change would be phased in as a child joins or moves school.
35. My child’s nearest school is a three-tier school which is over 3 miles away. Will they get transport to this school?
If a child’s nearest suitable school (with places available) is a three-tier school, then they will be entitled to free school transport to this school.
36. My child’s nearest school is a three-tier school but I want them to go to a two-tier school which is further away and over 3 miles. Will they get transport to this school?
If a child’s nearest suitable school (with places available) is a three-tier school, then they will be entitled to free school transport to this school, and also to the nearest two-tier school.
37. My child’s nearest school is a two-tier school which is over 3 miles away. Will they get transport to this school?
If a child’s nearest suitable school (with places available) is a two-tier school, then they will be entitled to free school transport to this school.
38. My child’s nearest school is a two-tier school but I want them to go to a three-tier school which is further away and over 3 miles. Will they get transport to this school?
If a child’s nearest suitable school (with places available) is a two-tier school, then they will be entitled to free school transport to this school. They would not be entitled to transport to a three-tier school.
39. My child’s nearest school is a two-tier school but is full, the next nearest school is a three-tier school. Will they get transport to this school?
Yes, we will provide transport to the next nearest school for those that meet the eligibility criteria, if this is a three-tier school then we would also provide transport to the next two-tier school as well.
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