Since the start of the new school year, a number of parents have contacted us to tell us about problems with SEN transport. Through discussions with special schools, we confirmed that more than just a few families were affected. We then met with transport officers to discuss parents’ concerns and find a way forward.
Sheffield City Council’s budget is being squeezed, and public services are feeling the strain. Although the SEN transport budget has remained static, demand is increasing by around 30-40 extra passengers per year. The service is coping with the increased demand using existing buses. Overall, the total number of vehicles on the road has not changed.
For many of our children, the start to the new school year is a time of great upheaval and anxiety. Add a bad transport experience to the mix, and families could be dealing with the fallout for months to come. So how can we ensure that transport works as smoothly as possible from day one?
When we looked at the issues that are causing the most distress – last-minute staff changes, children being picked up late and arriving late at school, staff not being aware of children’s needs – we found that many of these could be resolved by spending a bit more time on planning and preparation.
Action: Transport Services will encourage drivers and escorts to come in during the last week of the summer holidays to carry out dry runs, prepare equipment for the vehicle, tweak routes together with route planners in the office, and familiarise themselves with children’s needs. The service will look at ways of paying staff for this preparation work, but since drivers and escorts are on term-time contracts, their participation would be voluntary. We feel that this preparation work should not be optional – after all the wellbeing and safety of our children are at stake here – and will continue our conversation with the Council to try and find a solution.
We suggested that it would be helpful to give families a “window of time” (e.g. a 30-minute slot) during which they should expect their child to be picked up. Transport officers were unsure if this would be feasible.
Many of the problems we discussed were down to poor communication between Transport Services, schools, the SEN department and parents. Examples include schools not passing lists of pupils on to transport, parents not telling the service that they have moved house, and transport not being aware of arrangements between parents and private contractors (e.g. training over the summer holidays).
Action: Transport officers will work with schools and the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum to write a timetable which clearly sets out who must communicate with whom, about what, and by which deadline. This timetable will establish:
• When the SEN department must inform Transport Services about school placements for the next school year. This includes flagging up those children whose school placement could change subject to a tribunal appeal.
• When Transport Information Forms (TIF) will be sent to parents to ensure that details held by Transport Services are up to date. The service will ring parents who don’t return their forms, and carry out home visits for parents who need extra support.
• When Transport Services should send draft run sheets to schools to enable them to flag up potential issues (must be done before the end of the summer term)
• When information about drivers, escorts and vehicles should be communicated to parents. This should include mobile phone numbers
• When Transport Services should contact all the special schools to find if there are any issues that need resolving (should be done a couple of weeks into the new term)
Government guidance sets out that journeys should not exceed 45 minutes for primary school children and 75 minutes for secondary school children. Case law states that transport must be “non-stressful” and that children must arrive in a fit state to learn (R v Hereford and Worcester CC).
In Sheffield, SEN transport is working towards the guidelines and a maximum of 75 minutes regardless of age. However, we have heard anecdotal evidence that some children are spending two hours or more on the bus for whom this is inappropriate, e.g. very young children, or children who must not remain in one position for a long time due to the risk of pressure sores, etc.
Action: The Transport service is currently fitting a tracking system which will allow information on journey times to be gathered in the future. For now, Transport Services will ring around all the special schools to establish whether any children are experiencing stressful journeys, and action will then be taken to address this. Parents are encouraged to contact Transport Services directly if they have any concerns. In the future, Transport Services will share draft run sheets with schools in order to get feedback during the planning stage.
First of all, it is extremely important that parents inform Transport Services immediately if their child’s needs or their contact details change – don’t wait for them to ask you!
Secondly, parents should contact Transport Services on 0114 203 7570 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if they feel that the transport provision which is being made for their child is unsuitable for his or her needs. If you don’t feel able to talk to the service directly, you can also ask the Parent Partnership Service (0114 261 9191 or email email@example.com) to support you.
Parents might also like to register for the Council’s free email alert service to get updates on school closures (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/register-for-alerts.html).