Refusal of school transport by Essex – call for evidence by the Department for Education

The Department for Education (DfE) are continuing to investigate Essex County Council’s school transport policy following a referral by R4U. The policy is to refuse free school transport unless going to the nearest school even when the nearest school is not the catchment school and a place will automatically be refused.

Unless the policy is brought into line with the government’s rules the refusals will apply to an ever larger number of students. The shortage of places means Saffron Walden County High are being forced to refuse places to siblings. The change is currently at consultation, but will mean that where the catchment area has previously been reduced younger siblings will have to go to another school. And the year group expansion at Joyce Frankland will mean more students will no longer be going to their nearest school.

The excuse from Essex is that students must apply to their nearest school regardless. However the SWCH website says

‘If you are keen for your child to gain a place at the school it is vital that you put SWCHS as your first preference on the application form.’

Although details of all refusals should be available to the DfE from Essex, the investigating official has requested R4U to coordinate evidence from parents in case Essex are slow to supply further information to her.

Please therefore will parents who believe they have been refused transport unreasonably please contact us using the link below:

ECC have sent a response to the DfE official but she appears not to be satisfied that the the DfE statutory guideline is being adhered to. It says that transport is to be provided to the nearest school which has places.

4 thoughts on “Refusal of school transport by Essex – call for evidence by the Department for Education

  1. Dawn Temple

    I along with other residents in Elsenham had our free school bus withdrawn as the walking route was deemed safe and as we live under 3 miles would be expected to pay over £700 per child the route has no street lighting and paths are narrow and over grown it floods in the winter forcing the children to walk in the middle of the road there is also heavy construction traffic using the road despite the weight limit they mount the pavement as the road is to narrow in places

    Reply
    • Neil Hargreaves

      Dawn,

      Thanks for your response. Essex have been doing all sorts of things to avoid paying. But decreeing that a previously ‘unsafe’ route has (presumably without any alteration?) become ‘safe’ is one we’d not heard of before.

      The issue we are targetting is where we believe the policy to be wrong. The issue you describe seems to be where the existing policy is being misapplied.

      The procedure is for you all to appeal. Maybe you have already done this? No doubt you have read the Essex document http://www.essex.gov.uk/Education-Schools/Travel-School/Documents/Education_Transport_Policy.pdf. The reference document referred to on p5 costs £90 but it seems to be the definitive source against which to decide on safety

      Experience reported by others doing appeals is it goes through the process and they typically support the officer decision and refuse the appeal. Normally I would say ask your county councillor for help, but it is currently Ray Gooding, cabinet member for Education and originator of policy to cut school transport, but you can still try.

      Next stage is to take it to the Local Authority Ombudsman. They can adjudicate whether Essex have correctly applied the policy. (The issue we referred to the DfE can’t be resolved by the Ombudsman because it is the policy at fault not how it is being applied)

      I would have thought the key issue on appeal is what has changed to make an unsafe route ‘safe’

      I hope this is of some help and please do keep us informed of progress

      Neil

      Reply
  2. Nina

    Good evening Neil,

    A group of patents in Chesterford had been offered transport to JFAN by rail. Appeals were made and the decisions over turned by ECC. The children are now travelling to school from Great Chesterford to JFAN via SWCHS.

    Perental pressure and some wise words from a local resident who understands the system.

    The reason these children are going to JFAN is because the children were not offered the first place choice at their catchment school (and nearest school) SWCHS. No prior warning was given.

    For those of us that have you get children we now face the conundrum of where to apply for places in 2018. The entry criteria for both schools has altered to cater for the issues in the area, but ECC will not budge and insist that applications are processed for the nearest school – thus transport will be provided – but the families will be split. Should we opt for applying for JFAN as first option school there is no guarantee that the siblings will be awarded a place at that school – either way transport is an issue. Nonetheless the overwhelming issue is the inability by Essex to admitt that there is enough secondary provision in the area.

    When writing to our local MP – response has been terse and quite unhelpful.

    NvKT

    Reply
    • Neil Hargreaves

      Hi Nina. Thanks for this. I don’t quite understand the first part. Did Essex offer free transport by train and then change their minds?

      Are the appeals you refer to against having to go to JFAN when SWCH is catchment and nearest and siblings are split? Rather than a transport appeal.

      Neil

      Reply

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