Agenda item


Purpose of the report:

To outline the proposed changes to the Home to School Travel Assistance (H2S TA) policy for children and young people in mainstream schools and pupils with additional needs (SEND). This report sets out the rationale for, the objectives of the changes, the changes being consulted on and the intended outcome.




Denise Turner Stewart, Cabinet Member for Education and Learning

Rachael Wardell, Executive Director – Children, Families and Lifelong Learning

Hayley Connor, Director – Commissioning

Eamonn Gilbert, Assistant Director – Commissioning


Key points raised in the discussion:

  1. The Cabinet Member introduced the report, noting that the service currently cost around £45 million a year and that the council was investing £139 million to increase the number of school spaces in county which would reduce demand on travel assistance services. There were significant challenges to securing transport provision due to market challenges, rising fuel costs and growing inflation, which was a national issue. There had been good engagement during the consultation period from key stakeholders and residents.


  1. The Director and Assistant Director presented slides on the consultation responses, which were published as an agenda supplement. There were 694 responses which were largely positive; nine out of the thirteen proposals were supported by a majority of respondents. It was noted that the proposals were for both mainstream children and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The Assistant Director reminded Members that there had been a complete refresh of the policy in 2020 and this was an update to the existing policy. Only around 10% of those with Educational Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) would qualify for adult social care services, and of those, only around 4-5% would qualify for support from health partners for complex medical health needs. Therefore, there was a significant focus on developing independence and preparing for adulthood.


  1. A Member asked about the causes of increased demand. The Director explained that there were national drivers for demand, particularly around SEND. As Surrey was a large rural area with a few areas that were congested and highly populated, it meant that transport arrangements were difficult to negotiate. The rise in fuel and energy prices and shortage of drivers had also created challenges in meeting demand.


  1. The Member also asked about the financial impact of the proposed changes, as well as any inherent risks. In terms of efficiencies, the Director explained that it was important to deliver services to children who needed them most, however it was also important to deliver value for money. There had been detailed financial analysis on the savings, although much had changed since the work had started, such as the price of fuel. Calculations were still being made in some detail. The Assistant Director added that the number of places for independent travel training would increase to 200, and then 400, to help and prepare young people for future employment. It was about shifting resources to approaches which helped to develop independence, where it was appropriate for the young person. The Director explained that the capital investment to increase school places and encourage more children to be educated in Surrey which would positively impact the costs. The Member noted that the number of school children in Surrey would likely decrease in the next few years due to falling birth rates. The Director explained that they were managing the financial impacts and risks carefully and co-production with stakeholders should be maintained. The Executive Director added that they were changing community transport arrangements and introducing a rounded package of measures. There had been consideration since receiving the results from the consultation about how to address the proposals that received a negative response. A risk could be individual human behaviour, because if families did not like the arrangements, they may choose to transport their children themselves. The Cabinet Member added that there were significant investment programmes, such as improving the bus network and making public transport easier to use. The proposed changes had been considered in parallel with these investment programmes.


  1. A Member asked whether the proposed changes aligned more greatly with national policy guidance. The Director explained that generally they did align, but they were seeking flexibility to move away from always implementing the guidance. This flexibility was particularly in terms of increasing journey times, when it was considered appropriate for a child. It was important to note that it was guidance and viewed as best practice. The proposals were about internal processes to provide clarity for when to move away from the guidance around journey times.


  1. In response to a question on the proposed changes to the Member appeals panel, the Director confirmed that it would be a mixed Member-officer panel. The Member noted that there would be cases where children cannot share transport due to their needs. The Director explained that they would consider those children and their specific circumstances, it was about strengthening definitions around medical support. The Member sought assurance that children would have travel arrangements in place by the first day of term. The Executive Director explained they could not guarantee that but would always endeavour to make sure they did; however, sometimes arrangements did fail, which could be for reasons out of their control.


  1. A Member asked about the cost savings of more school places in Surrey; the risk of bus driver shortages; performance against other councils; whether electric vehicles were a requirement; and an increase of smaller mainstream schools. The Executive Director responded that an increase of smaller mainstream schools was not likely due to the instability of them and the direction of national policy. The focus was on increasing SEND places. The Director explained that the proposed changes were part of a much broader review of how the council provided transport. It was important for children to be able to get to and from school on public transport. The benchmarking process was completed pre-pandemic, however the County Councils Network produced a report which provided information about how Surrey compared to other local authorities and a series of national recommendations. The Assistant Director added that the key issue was scale, as currently a lot of vehicles were required. Greater SEND places within Surrey allowed scale, as a minibus did not cost much more than a taxi but could allow larger groups to travel together. The service was looking to move away from a 100% commissioned service.


  1. A Member asked about the process of evaluating needs for home to school transport and families’ involvement in this. The Director clarified that there were no plans to change the process from what was currently in place, the proposal was to build in further conversations with the family to ensure that the needs of the child were understood. The Assistant Director added that they were going to produce a parent guide with Family Voice outlining expectations of the service and of families.


  1. In response to a question on the assessment of a SEND child’s transport needs, the Assistant Director explained that there was an application process, then their eligibility would be assessed and they would be transferred to the transport coordination centre, who would liaise with the school, and there would usually be a narrative in the application from the family as well. If they also had a medical need, there was an arrangement in place with health partners to share information. They would provide advice, and if appropriate, someone medically trained would travel with the child.


  1. A Member asked about the percentage of solo transport for SEND children and the expected number of children that would be considered appropriate to share, as well as the associated savings. The Assistant Director shared that around 70% of solo travellers were SEND children. They had been working with families to understand how to move away from those arrangements. There were currently 650 solo routes. The Cabinet Member added that a primary driver was to make such provision available to those with greatest needs.


  1. A Member commented on the proposed change to the Member appeals panel suggesting that it implied that Members were not doing an effective job. The Cabinet Member explained that it was about streamlining service, as currently it was frustrating for families if there were delays due to not enough Members being available. The Member also asked about the proposed changes to the maximum journey time. The Director explained that they planned to create a set of supplementary guidance which made it clear what journey time was considered suitable, with references to ages and stages. Their primary concern was around a child going to the best school for their needs and flexibility in the policy could allow this. The Assistant Director noted that of 2,100 routes, 313 were close to the 45-minute time limit. The proposal was to introduce flexibility, not to move all routes to 75 minutes limit (for secondary aged children). For children accessing a mainstream school, the main issue was to consider the requirement of a 2-to-3-mile walking distance to the school.


  1. A Member asked how often arrangements were reviewed and how independent travel training worked. The Assistant Director explained that independent travel training was a one-to-one service, usually lasting a month. An adult would travel with the child from door to door and gradually they would start to shadow the child instead. At the end, there would be an assessment to see whether the child was able to travel independently safely and if so, a bus or train pass would be provided where necessary. The arrangements were not reviewed unless the provider changed, or the family contacted the council about a change.


  1. The Chairman asked about the notice period for the removal of travel assistance and why respondents disagreed with the proposal. The Director explained that for some families who move out of a low-income status, a month may not be enough time to work out new travel arrangements for your child. The current arrangement allowed arrangements to continue until the end of the academic year. It was about nuancing the policy. There were also concerns around who would determine what was considered to be a safe walking route. The Executive Director added that 47% were not in favour, 53% were in favour or neutral. A Member commented that the end of term could be more appropriate.


  1. The Chairman enquired about collection points. The Assistant Director explained that they would be the equivalent of a bus stop, however there would be a number of children with SEND for whom collection points would be unsuitable. It was a parental responsibility to get their child to school and collection points would reduce the overall journey time. It would be appropriate for SEND children on a university pathway. There would be further consultation with families on any route where it was planned to introduce a collection point.


  1. A Member asked about the numbers of children affected by the proposed maximum journey time of 75 minutes. The Director explained that 541 students travelled on routes that take approximately 45 minutes. At this stage it was not known how many children’s travel routes would be redesigned, but feedback from both the consultation and the Select Committee would be accounted.


The meeting adjourned at 1:02pm for a briefing on the Safety Valve agreement, and Simon Parr left the meeting.

The meeting was reconvened meeting at 2:18pm.

  1. A Member suggested that there should be at least a greater majority of Members to officers on the Member appeals panel. The Executive Director explained that whilst she agreed with this in principle, it would not achieve the objective with regards to quorum and Member availability.



i.              That future Select Committee meetings allow for sufficient time for each agenda item and a lunchbreak where appropriate.


  1. The Cabinet Member for Education and Learning ensure the Home to School Travel Assistance Policy reflects the following recommendations before it is referred to Cabinet for agreement:

a)    The 45-minute maximum intended journey time for primary-aged pupils contained in statutory guidance be maintained and only exceeded in exceptional circumstances, such as journeys which enable a child to attend the setting which best meets their needs or where it would be impractical or disproportionately expensive for a journey to be shorter than 45-minutes – journeys should always enable children to arrive at school ready for a day of study and be suitable, safe and reasonably stress free.

b)    Collection points be situated in locations which protect the safety and wellbeing of children.

c)    In the case of an appeal against a withdrawal of travel assistance, assistance not be withdrawn until the appeal is complete.

d)    There be no change to the appeals panel membership; and that steps be taken promote member attendance at appeals panel meetings.

  1. That Cabinet agree the reported changes to the Home to School Travel Assistance Policy subject to the changes recommended in recommendation 1.


Supporting documents: