Proposed changes to Hampshire County Council’s School and Post-16 Transport Policies will be the subject of two public consultations set to run from Monday 30 October until Wednesday 6 December.
Councillor Edward Heron, the County Council’s Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, considered and approved the request to undertake both consultations at his Decision Day on 19 October.
As required by the Department for Education (DfE), there are two policies in place for the County Council’s school transport provision for children and young people: one for children of compulsory school age, and a Post-16 Policy for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) travelling to further education or training.
Following Councillor Heron’s approval, two separate consultations will now request feedback on a number of proposed changes to both policies. The proposals have been put forward to provide more flexible transport arrangements that better respond to children’s needs, demand and external market pressures, while bringing services in line with the latest statutory guidance from the DfE.
The proposals are not part of a savings programme, and do not include any proposed changes to the eligibility criteria for School and Post-16 Transport.
Councillor Heron commented: “We know that our School and Post-16 Transport services are very important for many children, young people and their families. We know too that there are some things we could potentially do differently to strengthen both services, and we would urge as many people as possible to share their views on the proposals now being put forward. It is especially important that we hear from those who use the services directly and their families, as well as our schools, colleges, transport operators and Passenger Assistants. I want to assure everyone who provides feedback that their views will be thoroughly considered before any final decisions are made.”
The two consultations will be published on the County Council’s website and will ask people for their views on the following proposals.
Consultation on proposed changes to the Post-16 Transport Policy
The first of the two consultations will seek feedback on a proposal to increase the parental financial contribution to the Post-16 Transport service, annually from September 2024, in line with inflation. As with most Local Authorities, the Post-16 Transport service is discretionary and requires a partial parental contribution, with the majority of the overall costs funded by the County Council. The proposed annual increase comes following ongoing exceptional challenges in the transport market nationally which have seen the County Council’s transport costs rise significantly above inflation, from £34 million in the 2021/22 financial year to over £50 million in 2022/23.
The parental contribution does not apply to families on low incomes or in exceptional circumstances and, in 2022/23, was waived for the majority of families eligible for Post-16 Transport.
Also proposed are some small, recommended changes to the Post-16 Transport Policy wording, to align more closely with the separate School Transport Policy.
Those wishing to comment on the proposed changes to the Post-16 Transport Policy will be able to share their feedback by calling, emailing or writing to the service. Contact details will be available on the consultation webpage from Monday 30 October.
Consultation on proposed changes to the School Transport Policy
The second consultation on the School Transport Policy will gather views on a range of proposals to make the service more flexible and responsive to children’s needs over time.
These include the proposed introduction of Personal Transport Budgets which could give families greater choice and flexibility to create more tailored transport arrangements otherwise unavailable in the local transport market.
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. If agreed, this would only be offered where absolutely suitable, following a thorough assessment process, and in agreement with the parents or carers concerned.
Also proposed is the regular review of Passenger Assistants (PAs), who accompany eligible children with additional needs on their journeys to school. If agreed, this would ensure that the right support continues to be in the right place, both for those children currently with PAs and for those without.
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 other smaller suggested changes to policy wording to reflect the latest DfE statutory guidance.
Those wishing to respond to the School Transport Policy consultation will find an information pack and consultation response form on the County Council’s website from Monday 30 October. Easy-read versions of all documents will be available, along with paper, Braille and other translated copies on request.
Additionally, a number of information events will be held where children, young people, parents or carers and others interested in School Transport will be able to ask any questions they may have about the proposals. These events apply only to the consultation on the School Transport Policy, and not to the separate Post-16 Transport Policy consultation. Details of these events will be published on the consultation webpages in due course.
Analysis of the consultation feedback will be presented, alongside final recommendations for both policies, to Councillor Heron at a future Decision Day in 2024.
In the meantime, more detail about the proposals is available online in the full reports published on the County Council’s website.