Hampshire County Council will seek permission to consult on proposed changes to its School and Post-16 Transport policies. The recommendation to consult will be considered by Councillor Edward Heron, the County Council’s Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, at his Decision Day on Thursday 19 October.
As required by the Department for Education (DfE), the County Council has two policies covering transport provision for children and young people: one for children under 16 travelling to school, and a post-16 policy for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) travelling to further education or training.
The proposed changes to both policies are designed to provide more flexible transport arrangements that better respond to children’s needs, demand and external market pressures. They also seek to bring services in line with the latest statutory guidance from the DfE.
The proposals put forward are not part of a savings programme, and do not include any proposed changes to the eligibility criteria for School and Post-16 Transport.
Request to consult on proposed changes to the Post-16 Transport Policy
While there is no statutory obligation for the County Council to provide transport after the age of 16, a service is offered to students with SEND who require additional support to access settings that are most suitable for their needs. As with most Local Authorities, this is a discretionary service that requires a parental financial contribution, with the majority of the costs funded by the County Council. The parental contribution can be waived where parents are on a low income or receive certain benefits, if the young person receives free school meals, or in exceptional circumstances. In the 2022/23 academic year, approximately 76.7 per cent of families eligible for Post-16 Transport did not pay a contribution.
The County Council will now seek permission to consult on its Post-16 Transport Policy for the 2024/25 academic year. If approved, the consultation would seek feedback on a proposal to increase the parental contribution to the Post-16 Transport service, annually from September 2024, in line with inflation. Also proposed are some small changes to the Post-16 Transport Policy wording, to align more closely with the separate School Transport Policy.
The proposal to increase the annual parental contribution is in response to the ongoing significant financial pressures facing the service, including driver shortages, a lack of transport operators, and exceptionally high demand with daily journeys arranged for 13,500 children and young people. Together these have seen the County Council’s combined costs for School and Post-16 Transport rise to over £50 million a year in the 2022/23 financial year, compared to £34 million in the previous year. These pressures are entirely in line with those faced by Local Authorities nationally.
Request to consult on proposed changes to the School Transport Policy
Also on 19 October, the County Council will seek permission to consult on proposals to make its School Transport Policy more flexible and responsive to children’s needs over time.
This includes the proposed introduction of Personal Transport Budgets for families with children whose needs cannot be met effectively by local transport operators. In these circumstances, the provision of Personal Transport Budgets could give greater choice and allow families to create more tailored transport arrangements better suited to their children’s needs.
Other proposals include the development of an Independent Travel Training offer to support a small number of children to travel independently as part of their preparations for adulthood. The proposal is to offer such a service only where absolutely appropriate, following a thorough assessment of a child’s needs, and only in agreement with a child’s parents.
Also proposed is the regular review of Passenger Assistants (PAs), who accompany eligible children with additional needs on their journeys, to ensure that the right support continues to be in the right place. This would benefit those children currently without a PA whose needs have now increased; and likewise, those with a PA who have become more independent and no longer require this additional level of support.
As with the Post-16 Transport Policy, an uplift in the parental contribution towards discretionary School Transport services is also proposed, in line with inflation, as well as some smaller changes to the wording of the Policy to reflect the latest DfE statutory guidance.
Councillor Heron will consider the request to consult on the above proposed changes to both transport policies during his upcoming Decision Day. Should both consultations be agreed, further details would be shared in due course. For more information regarding the proposed consultations, please visit the County Council’s website.