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STAFFORDSHIRE: Council to review 50 SEN transport decisions

STAFFORDSHIRE: Council to review 50 SEN transport decisions

Photo by Staffordshire LDR Kerry Ashdown.

Dozens of families who had their requests for school transport turned down by Staffordshire Council will have their applications re-considered after the authority was found to be at fault in a case involving an autistic teenager.

The county council has apologised and paid out £300 to the family of the girl, who faces a 50-mile round trip to her sixth form, after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found it had made mistakes in its handling of their application for home to school transport assistance.

The trip would have taken two hours each way for the teenager on public transport because there was no direct bus service and so her mother resorted to driving her to school each day.

The Ombudsman recommended that the council should carry out an audit of 20% of the transport applications made for post-16 students with special educational needs or disabilities that had been refused support, but previously had it provided.

On Wednesday (October 20) the council’s cabinet was told of the action now being taken in response to the audit and the Ombudsman’s findings.

Councillor Jonathan Price, cabinet member for education and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities), said: “Every year, separate to the education budget, we allocate around £15m to provide transport for more than 2,000 children, those with special educational needs and disabilities. It’s a service we are committed to providing and each year we deal with scores of applications for supported transport.

“In 2020-21 we received 221 post-16 transport applications. We got this one wrong and we have apologised to the family and put right our mistake in this case.

“Since we received the Ombudsman’s report we have looked again at a random sample of similar applications for post-16 students who have applied on SEND or other disability grounds and whose applications were rejected. Using the interpretation favoured by the Ombudsman we found some examples where the applications would have been granted.

“So we are going to review all of these applications – 50 in total – to ensure we reach the right decision in all of them. We will be doing this as quickly as possible and where our decision was wrong we will be putting it right immediately and we will contact all those families to let them know how they stand.”

Cabinet members were told the council supports 6,300 children and young people with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – 20% higher than the national average. And 51% of those in education in Staffordshire with an EHCP attend a specialist provision rather than a mainstream school, compared to 39% nationally.

Council leader Alan White said: “From time to time we make mistakes but we are a learning organisation. Where things go wrong, where things don’t quite turn out right, we do something about it and this is what we are doing in this case.”

Deputy leader Councillor Philip White thanked Councillor Price, who is a parent of a child with SEND, for his work.

He added: “We have a strong advocate in you and I know you will continue to work hard to improve our services in this area and make them very good indeed.”

Words: Kerry Ashdown, Local Democracy Reporter

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