Agenda item


Purpose of the item: To share findings of a review into provision of home to school travel assistance in the lead-up to the 2022/23 academic year, presented for scrutiny.




Clare Curran, Cabinet Member for Education and Learning

Sarah Kershaw, Chief of Staff 

Rachael Wardell, Executive Director – Children, Families & Learning

Rebecca Threlfall, Chief of Staff – Children, Families & Learning

Liz Mills, Director – Education and Lifelong Learning

Hayley Connor, Director – CFL Commissioning

Michael Smith, Programme Director – Twin Track  

Leanne Henderson – Participation Manager, Family Voice Surrey

Key points made in the discussion:

1.    The Chief of Staff presented slides on the Council’s intentions resulting from the learning review (Annex 1) and stated progress in these would be reported to the Select Committee.


2.    A Member asked how the 17 short-term priorities linked to the recommendations. The Programme Director explained they had identified six of these that would run into 2023 and plans were in place.


3.    The Participation Manager of Family Voice Surrey shared a presentation (Annex 2) on the findings from their survey conducted on home to school travel assistance (H2STA). Of those people who completed the survey, the key findings were that there were a range of negative impacts resulting from problems with H2STA including financial and mental health, communication challenges, and inconsistency around the independent travel allowance (ITA) provided.


4.    A Member noted that on a recent stage two review panel they had sat on, four out of five of the cases should had not have made it to stage two and suggested a lack of officer understanding. The Director (Commissioning) said many stage one appeals did not include enough detail to fully assess the situation and so forms had been changed to gather more information at this initial stage. She welcomed a conversation about improvements in both officer and Member training. The officers at stage two appeals were experienced. The review was looking at the whole process and improving it at every stage. Some recommendations would take longer to address, but all would be part of the improvement process.


5.    A Member enquired as to the Participation Manager’s perception of the current position for families. She understood the majority of families now had transport in place. Communication from families on the issue had reduced since the end of October / start of November.


6.    A Member queried whether the survey results were generalisable across Surrey and whether survey responses consisted of options or free text. The Participation Manager explained communication received prior to the survey was of a similar nature to the results. There were a variety of options for respondents to choose from, which had been selected based on what parent carers were telling them. SEND Advice Surrey were also hearing the same things.


7.    The Cabinet Member acknowledged the service had fallen short in 2022 and apologised for the impact on children and families. There had also been problems in previous years and they were working to address these as well.


8.    In response to a question on the Council funding transport for children at a mainstream school when they lived close to another school, the Director (Education and Lifelong Learning) explained the Council had to abide by the admissions code and could not require a parent to move a child once they were placed. The policy was clear that a close-to-home approach should be taken and it was important for the Council to allocate children to the nearest school initially.


9.    A Member queried why the concerns on the policy changes raised by the Committee were not taken onboard. He asked why the Council had not taken more time to introduce the policy or recruited more staff to meet the expected increase in demand. The Cabinet Member noted that she did not recall the Committee not being in agreement with the policy changes. The Executive Director noted before policy changes they were transporting more children at greater cost than was needed by statutory requirements and acknowledged that the Committee noted parents would find the changes difficult. It was right to change it but they had difficulty delivering it, with the service not staffed up ready to respond. Going forward, the Executive Director would ensure that they have sufficient and adequately trained staff to deliver the policy accurately. The Scrutiny Officer clarified the Committee had made four recommendations to Cabinet on the proposed new policy and all but one were at least in part agreed.


10.A Member asked about the number of parents who were told to appeal because they did not want to receive the ITA offered. The Executive Director explained 113 children were offered the alternative of an ITA, but was unable to say how many were told to appeal.


11.A Member noted the communication of incorrect deadline dates to families and asked how it would be ensured these errors did not happen again. The Director (Commissioning) explained they did recognise the issue with dates, which was due to the involvement of several teams which all had different statutory deadlines. She added that an officer had been recruited specifically responsible for communications and stakeholder management and the service would move away from using the loaded ‘late’ term. She assured the Committee that all 12 of Family Voice’s recommendations would be part of the improvement and transformation process.


12.A Member asked which of the 50 recommendations were key. The Executive Director explained it was those that improved the customer experience, and work on digitisation had started. The Director (Education and Lifelong Learning) added that the transport process was driven by children being placed in school. There was now a list of all the known children with additional needs and disabilities and when they were due to move between key stages, in order to smooth the transfer and give parents early notification. There had been a 38% increase locally and nationally in in-year admissions linked to internal migration and therefore the Council was working to make the process clear for applications at different points of the year.


13.A Member asked whether the review had assessed the effectiveness of the new policy. The Executive Director explained there were national issues, as the legislation was no longer fit for purpose in the modern world. The Council endeavoured to be as close to the statutory requirements as possible and not do more than was required.


14.A Member asked how the success of the action plan would be measured. The Cabinet Member explained that there was an Oversight Board which was made up of senior Directors and Cabinet Members which tracked key performance metrics.


15.A Member asked about the reasons why families could not be paid ITA at the start of term, rather than being reimbursed later and being out of pocket in the meantime. The Director (Commissioning) explained that a family had to be set up on the payment system which could take up to two weeks. The current process was that families were paid one month afterwards due to being able to calculate an accurate figure if a child had not attended school every day. Emergency payments were paid to parents experiencing financial hardship and it was being explored how to make this process slicker. Officers were investigating the implications of paying families in advance.


16.In relation to recommendation 33, a Member asked how the policy could be implemented without information on processes, decisions and criteria being documented. The Director (Commissioning) explained that it was documented, the issue the recommendation was addressing referred to the process. There was a need to document the process end-to-end and host all processes in one place so that fewer children fall through the gaps along their journey.


17.A Member asked why the Council was paying some families for two journeys a day and other families for four. The Director (Commissioning) responded they would be looking again at their policy in light of an Ombudsman ruling. They were in discussions and the Director would inform the Committee of the outcome before Christmas. A Member asked if any additional payments would be backdated and the Director said they were considering the implications. 


18.A Member asked what was considered a reasonable length of time for a family to receive a response from the transport team. The Director (Commissioning) explained it should be the same day for an emergency enquiry, five working days for a general enquiry, and ten working days for complaints. The timescales were not adhered to over the summer period, but they were now and adherence continued to be monitored.


19.A Member noted that in a presentation provided on 14 December, there were 105 programme plan project titles and asked where the service would be by September 2023. The Programme Director explained there over 200 individual actions, although many of these overlapped and were being brought into packages. A thematic approach had been taken to prioritise the actions into short, medium, and long-term. Once they had been prioritised, there would be more ability to be agile in the approach taken. The Executive Director explained the mission was to be ready by next September, with applications received prior to the start of term to have transport arrangements in place for children to attend school at the start of term. There were always factors that could prevent this, such as staff sickness.


20.The Cabinet Member emphasised the significance of the work and noted that it was a priority of herself and the Leader. The service had the dedicated resource, commitment, and investment to address the problems.


Actions/requests for further information:

1.    The Director for Commissioning to inform the Committee by Christmas what is decided in terms of the 2/4 journeys.


1.    That the Cabinet amends the Home to School Travel Assistance Policy and updates its Local Offer with immediate effect to ensure:


a)    A parent carer is, from the first instance, only given the alternative of a mileage allowance if their consent has been obtained. This accords with DfE Statutory Home to School Guidance 2014 and should avoid the ensuing appeals with associated delays.


b)    Parent carers who receive an Independent Travel Allowance are paid mileage for a return journey to the child or young person’s setting in accordance with the Local Government Ombudsman decision. This should be the general rule for all recipients, both to ease the Council’s administrative burden and for parity. This policy should be backdated to September 2022 and recipients reimbursed accordingly. 


c)    Parent carers eligible to receive an Independent Travel Allowance are paid it at the start of term rather than being reimbursed later.


d)    Systems are coordinated so that an application for travel assistance is automatically made at the point at which a school of qualifying distance is named on the EHCP. An application is not classed as late in the circumstance that a school is named in the plan after deadline.


e)    The inclusion of additional children on a route is not used as a reason to exceed maximum journey times considered best practice i.e. 45 minutes for primary and 75 minutes for secondary.


f)     Where young people have the potential to travel independently, the independent travel training offer is promoted and additional public transport routes commissioned wherever possible.


g)    When opening a new specialist school, consideration is given to whether it is on a bus or other public transport route.


2.    That the Select Committee endorses the recommendations in the learning review subject to Cabinet agreement of the changes recommended in 1 and on the provision that:


a)CFL assigns a RAG rating to progress in the five workstreams (page 53) and reports these to each formal Select Committee meeting, and


b)CFL shares with the Select Committee for scrutiny as soon as possible, its proposals for the performance indicators referred to in its recommendation no 39, which measure a young person’s home to school transport journey from application to delivery. These should include the number of occasions the transport team misses a target to (i) respond in a timely manner to general queries (5 working days) and with an application outcome (20 working days), and


c)CFL shares the above data at each formal Select Committee meeting as part of its regular monitoring of Inclusion and Additional Needs.


d)In order to provide clarity on the different policy post-16,

CFL works with Family Voice Surrey to produce a

separate guide for parent carers and young people specifically for post-16 transport.


e)CFL carries out an annual survey of home to school transport satisfaction in conjunction with Family Voice Surrey. 


3.    That the Select Committee receives an updated report from CFL on the new round of Home to School Travel Assistance applications, at its meeting in May 2023.


4.    That Family Voice Surrey report on parent carer experiences to Select Committee at its May 2023 meeting and prior to that discuss developments with CFL officers.


The meeting was paused at 11:17am and reconvened at 11:53am.

Supporting documents: