This report set outs the proposed amendments to the Council’s Home to School Transport Policy in relation to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and includes the results of consultation with service users, stakeholders and the wider public.
This item was not finalised in time for despatch with the main agenda. The Chairman of the Committee is of the opinion that it should be considered at this meeting as a matter of urgency as permitted under section 100B of the Local Government Act 1972 to enable the Committee’s comments to be submitted to the Cabinet before it makes any decisions on this matter on 10 April 2018.
The Committee received a report which outlined the proposed amendments to the Council’s Home to School Transport Policy in relation to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and minor consequential amendments and clarifications to the policy for mainstream pupils. The outcome of the consultation was set out in section 6 and 7 of the report.
The Assistant Director, Commissioning, Business and Intelligence drew the Committee’s attention to the seven key amendments and clarifications to the policy and emphasised that these proposals were intended to offer flexibility whilst ensuring the Council meets its statutory duties within budget.
Members raised a number of points and questions including:
· Appeals - With reference to experience on the Schools Transport Appeals Committee and case examples a Member expressed concern that owing to the change in policy more appeals would be received.
· ‘Pick up points’ – With reference to specific needs of children including children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a Member expressed concern over the provision of ‘pick up points’ and the proposed pilot scheme to work with a small cohort of willing participants to test the effectiveness and viability of the proposal. The Member sought assurances that the pilot scheme would include representation from a cross section of families. The Committee was assured that the proposed policy amendments did not impose the use of ‘pick up points’ on families, but that the provision of this option would be based around the needs of children and young people and their families and that officers would collaborate with families during the pilot.
The Partnership Commissioning Programme Lead noted that officers had undertaken extensive research into the options utilised by other Local Authorities and that pick up points had been successful elsewhere. It was further explained that not all routes would include pick up points and that officers would work with existing contractors and providers to determine what routes would be most suitable for the inclusion of ‘pick up points’. It was added that the use of ‘pick up points’ would address the issue of children and young people being required to remain on a mode of transport for long periods of time.
· Training – At the request of Members, the Assistant Director Commissioning, Business and Intelligence undertook to offer training to all Councillors on the proposed Policy if it was adopted. This need for training was supported by the Assistant Head of Legal Services.
· Consultation – With reference to the feedback from the consultation, a Member expressed concern that respondents expressing the view ‘not sure’ were considered to have agreed with proposals. The Partnership Commissioning Programme Lead explained to the Committee that 132 responses were received to the questionnaire and all of the feedback was set out in the report to ensure that the process was transparent.
· Drivers of proposed policy amendments – In relation to a question concerning whether the driver of the proposed Policy amendments was financial, the Assistant Director, Commissioning, Business and Intelligence explained to the Committee that the financial driver was important. However, it was explained there were other motivations for amending the Policy including: providing the least restrictive option for children and young people, providing more choice and personalisation and encouraging young people to develop independence which the existing policy did not encourage.
· Annual application and review process – A Member highlighted the concerns of parents set out in the consultation responses within the report in relation to the annual application process. In response, the Committee were advised that this feedback had been considered and officers were developing an online form as part of the Digital Transformation Programme which would streamline the application process and facilitate efficient processing of applications. It was added that the intention of the annual application and review process was not to reassess eligibility, as this was assessed through Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and other processes, but to review the options available to families to develop children and young people and support independence.
· Co-production – Following a question enquiring whether families had been included in the formation of the proposals, the Partnership Commissioning Programme Lead explained to Members that officers had worked with the Medway Parents and Carers Forum (MPCF) and an information session was held on 30 January 2018. He added that the next steps would be to set up a focus group to concentrate on the areas of concern e.g. ‘pick up points’.
· Legal standing – The Assistant Head of Legal Services reiterated the legal comments set out within the report and stated that the proposals had been reviewed by the Council’s Legal team and Counsel and were considered to be legal. She added that particular focus was given to ‘pick up points’ and ‘post 16 transport, financial contributions’. With reference to the pilot scheme to introduce ‘pick up points’ the Assistant Head of Legal Services also advised the Committee that the Policy might be amended following the pilot period.
· Financial contribution towards travel assistance arrangements for 16 to 18 year olds – With reference to discussions held at the information session with the MPCF, at the request of a Member, the Partnership Commissioning Programme Lead undertook to include a mechanism within the Policy to enable families to pay the required contribution towards travel assistance arrangements in instalments.
· The way forward – A Member commented that in order to take forward the proposed Policy, officers needed to build families’ confidence in the proposals.
a) noted the proposals to revise the existing Home to School Transport Policy and the outcome of the consultation set out in section 6 and 7 of the report;
b) noted that officers would include a mechanism within the proposed Education Travel Assistance Policy to enable families to pay the required contribution towards travel assistance for 16 to 18 year olds in instalments;
c) noted that officers would offer all Councillors training on the new Education Travel Assistance Policy should it be approved by Cabinet on 10 April 2018; and
d) recommended the proposed Education Travel Assistance Policy, set out at Appendix 3 to the report, to the Cabinet for approval at its meeting on 10 April 2018.