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As most parents will be aware, local authorities have a duty (found in the 1996 Education Act) to provide free home-to-school transport to certain categories of ‘eligible’ children, for example children whose nearest suitable school with places available is beyond walking distance or children who struggle to walk to school because of their SEN.
To the disappointment of some parents, a recent High Court decision (P v East Sussex CC  EWHC 4634) confirmed that the above duty only applies in relation to the normal school day and that local authorities are under no obligation to provide transport to and from after-school activities or between educational institutions. However, a decision of the Local Government Ombudsman published last month suggests this is not the whole story.
The matter in question concerned a five-year-old autistic boy who had a Statement of SEN and who attended a special school on a full time basis. The boy’s mother applied for transport from the school to an after-school nursery, which she was paying for privately. The nursery did not form part of a dual placement and it was named not named in the Statement: it was simply the mother’s choice of after school care.
The Council refused the application as did its Education Appeal Panel, which noted that:
‘C has a full time placement at X Special School, the remit of the panel is to consider home to school transport in accordance with sections 508b and 508c of the Education Act 1996. The purpose of these sections is to ensure that local authorities provide suitable travel arrangements, where necessary, to facilitate a child’s attendance at school. Your request is for transport from C’s school to after school facilities at Y nursery, therefore it is not covered within the scope of the Education Transport appeals committee. Therefore your appeal cannot be upheld.’
The LGO subsequently upheld a complaint by the mother. It accepted that transport to the private nursery fell outside the scope of the Council’s powers under the Education Act 1996. However, it pointed out that the Council had the power to provide transport using powers conferred on it by other legislation, for example the Children Act and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. Therefore, by failing to even consider providing transport, the Council had been at fault and the mother had suffered a loss of opportunity.
This decision may be of assistance to families who require free transport to and from after school activities for it suggests that although a local authority is not obliged to provide transport in such circumstances, it does have to consider doing so and, should it refuse, to provide a reasoned decision showing it has taken into account the family’s circumstances.
The full decision can be viewed here: