Special needs children miss school as parents face 'shambolic' transport

Emma Jane Kao with her son Luk

Emma Jane Kao with her son Luke who was unable to attend school due to confusion over his travel arrangements. - Credit: Emma Jane Kao

Parents of children with special educational needs say they’ve faced “shambolic” school transport arrangements which have left some children unable to attend lessons.

Families have complained of travel plans being changed at the last minute without adequate warning, while others said they had been left in the dark about arrangements for the start of the school term until the last minute.

Many children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are provided with taxis or minibus places to travel long distances to attend an appropriate school.

Emma Jane Kao, whose autistic son Luke, 14, travels from Great Yarmouth to attend The Wherry School in Norwich, said he had been left unable to get to school on Monday.

“I had been trying to phone the council all weekend because we had heard nothing through the six week holiday.

The Wherry School, Norwich, which educates children with autism and opened in September 2017. Pictur

The Wherry School, Norwich, which educates children with autism and opened in September 2017. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

“It’s totally shambolic that it has been left to the last minute. It was very disruptive for Luke because he likes routine and knowing what’s going to happen."

Norfolk County Council said that an error from the taxi company meant that no transport arrived for Luke on Monday but as soon as it became aware of the issue it put alternative transport in place.

Jackie Matthews, from Coltishall, whose 13-year-old son Josh attends Sidestrand Hall School in Cromer, said she had also struggled for weeks to discover his new travel arrangements after learning the previous taxi firm was no longer providing the service.

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She was eventually told he would have to travel on a minibus despite a risk assessment saying this method of travel was unsuitable for him.    

“It was left so late in the day that I didn’t think they were willing to consider alternatives,” she said. 

A driver of a wheelchair taxi bringing a disabled girl home from school

Many children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are provided with taxis or minibus places to travel long distances to school. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Another mother, from Aylsham, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she had received no information about which taxi firm would be transporting her autistic 12-year-old son who attends St Andrews School in Aylmerton.

“We went out on Monday morning and the taxi driver was driving up and down beeping the horn because she didn’t have our address and then had to look up directions to the school on her phone,” she said.

“Part of being autistic is that you really struggle with change and unpredictability. These children are feeling anxious about the new term as it is.” 

Nicki Price, founder of SENsational Families. Picture: Nicki Price

Nicki Price, founder of SENsational Families. - Credit: Archant

Nicki Price, founder and chief executive officer of SENsational Families, which supports 2,000 families in Norfolk, said she believed dozens had faced confusion over travel plans.   

“The uncertainty isn’t great, particularly when you are entrusting your child to a complete stranger in a car that they’ve never met before,” she said.

She said while travel arrangements were an issue every year due to new school placements it had been made worse this year due to drivers that previously did school transport switching to delivery work during the pandemic. 

“I do have some sympathy with the council because it cannot be easy to manage and arrange all these various transport options but the fact that parents were having problems on a Friday afternoon before their children go back to school on Monday is something that needs addressing,” she added.

Councils have faced increasing costs of providing taxis and private hire vehicles to transport SEND children, but Norfolk County Council has a policy of providing free home to school trips for those aged five to 16.

The council acknowledged that there have been some difficulties this year caused by Covid and  driver availability and that complex last minute work was always needed to coordinate transport. 

It said it acknowledged that this is difficult for families and apologised for the uncertainty. 

John Fisher, NCC cabinet member for childrens services. Photo: Broadland District Council

John Fisher, NCC cabinet member for childrens services. Photo: Broadland District Council - Credit: Archant

John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Our transport team is committed to working with families to provide appropriate transport to school for children with SEND. 

"Our approach is to assess each child’s needs and make an offer accordingly.

“Where operators are having short-term difficulty providing transport because of the impact of the pandemic, we will work with them and with families to ensure this disruption is as minimal as possible.”

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