ESPCF recently met with the principal transport officer at East Sussex County Council to discuss some ongoing issues about home to school transport. Here’s an update on what was discussed.
September tends to see a rise in feedback about home to school transport, with many children using this service for the first time or continuing to use the service but starting at a different school.
While we haven’t had as many incidents flagged to us this year as usually happens (we hope this is because things have gone smoothly for most families, not just that we haven’t heard about them!), there are still a number of ongoing issues.
This is one of the most common transport issues raised with ESPCF. Having highlighted it as an issue in previous meetings, we were pleased that familiarisation visits were incorporated into the contracts between the local authority and the taxi operators – although we were surprised that this wasn’t already in place.
We heard at this latest meeting that it can be difficult for the local authority to know whether all families have been offered an introduction/familiarisation visit before the start of term, because they are relying on the taxi operators to provide this information.
The local authority advised that families can contact the transport team to let them know if they are/were not offered one.
We agreed at the meeting that improved communication from the local authority is needed to ensure that families know:
- what sort of information they should be able to expect from both the local authority and the taxi operators, and
- what to do if things change or go wrong.
We have been told that all drivers and passenger assistants should now have ID badges provided by the local authority. These are in addition to other ID or documentation, such as taxi driver or vehicle licences.
The ID badges are specifically produced and distributed by the council to show that the driver and passenger assistant have met the relevant criteria for home to school transport (for example up-to-date DBS checks).
ESPCF is not entirely clear yet on all the information that should be included on the ID badges, and we have asked the transport department for an example card that we can share with parent carers.
There also needs to be clear and accessible information provided to families about the ID badges. We’ve heard from several parent carers who are understandably worried about changes to taxi crews, especially where there has already been a fairly high turnover of drivers or passenger assistants. Families need to know what information they can request to see and what to do if it is not available.
We hope to work on this with the transport team in the coming months.
The application process remains a source of frustration for some parent carers. It is an issue which we have raised previously and gathered some views and feedback about, which in turn helped determine our discussions with the local authority about what changes would make a difference for families. One area in particular is the time-limited nature of the form. This currently gives a limited window for completion before progress may be lost, and it is not clear ahead of time what information is required to complete the form. ESPCF will raise this again with the relevant service lead and ask if any changes have been made, or are planned, and how we can move forward.
This area overlaps with all aspects of home to school transport and is an ongoing issue. We are hoping to use the slightly quieter part of the school year for the transport team (e.g. November to March) to work with them on improving the availability and accessibility of information for families.
We think clear information should be provided proactively at key points, such as when a school is finalised on an EHCP and a transport application may be needed, or when a child changes school – we have heard from families that this doesn’t always happen.
We would also like to include frequently asked questions, such as what to do if you move house, who to contact if there is a problem, and what to do if your child’s transport doesn’t arrive. Please do send us suggestions of FAQs you’d like us to include.
Information about roles and responsibilities would also be helpful. We’ve heard from families that there is a lack of clarity about different parts of the process, which causes confusion. In particular, the process from the point of application, authorisation, and then implementation is unclear. The first two – application and authorisation – sit within the Assessment and Planning team, while the latter – arranging the transport and contracts, and working with the taxi operators – is the responsibility of the transport department. This understandably causes frustration for families when they need to contact someone to ask a question, discuss a change in circumstances, raise a concern or complaint, or discuss another issue.
We’ll continue to keep parent carers updated on any new developments, and please continue to share your feedback with us.