Meeting documents

SCC Scrutiny for Policies, Children and Families Committee
Monday, 3rd October, 2022 1.00 pm

  • Meeting of Scrutiny for Policies, Children and Families Committee, Monday 3rd October 2022 1.00 pm (Item 7.)

To receive a presentation providing an overview of statutory duties, demand and developments.


The item will be led by the Council’s Strategic Manager, Access & Additional Learning Needs Phil Curd and Service Manager Transporting Somerset John Perrett.


Note – the Chair will allow 35 minutes for this agenda item.


Following the discussion on the budget position and the major cost pressures across Home to School and Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) transport, the Committee received a PowerPoint presentation from the Council’s Strategic Manager, Access & Additional Learning Needs Phil Curd and Service Manager Transporting Somerset John Perrett. They provided an overview of the Council’s school transport duties, demand, growth of specialist places, transport organisation, costs, the significant challenges in the provision of home to school transport across Somerset and the development of a new School Travel Cost Management Strategy.


It was noted that a presentation had also been given at the Place Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 6 September 2022.


The Committee discussed the presentation, and the following questions and issues were raised and responded to, as follows: -

  • Whether the public can travel on the home to school transport – unfortunately not possible and can only make a spare seat available to other children to use; the service does buy seats on some public routes; bus timetables are focussed to get pupils across the post 16 network
  • Flagged that those who are dependent on the school transport service are unable to attend after school sessions, meaning vulnerable children are excluded – explained that have a statutory duty to transport to / from school and map the travel based on timings provided by the schools; if schools incorporated after school clubs in their school day it would be possible to adjust timings to allow attendance at the after school session; schools can also make own arrangements for those children who are detached from the school community
  • Questions on the in house fleet – gave a flavour of the fleet in terms of recruitment of drivers and staff; have 93 vehicles, ranging from cars to coaches; a lot used for SEND transport; 50% of fleet used on school transport; have 5 coaches which are expensive to run; on the minibus side, operate under a permit scheme (s19 permit), which means the service cannot make a profit or undertake commercial work / journeys but can recover full costs; have 5 depots to maintain and pay commercial price for maintenance; looking at possibility of maintenance being provided in house; mentioned recruitment of drivers issues; have 89 of vehicles on road at same time in the morning so squeezing everything out of the resources as possibly can; SEN transport is quite specialist – have not lost any operators but new operators are not coming through
  • Mention that papers have not referred to post 16 transport and this needs to be included going forward
  • Questions about bus buddies / independent travel trainers – this is administered through small team and are looking at expanding the team; special schools also looking at trying to deliver some of the independent travel training as part of the specialist curriculum, as part of transition to adulthood work
  • Question about the policy – expecting the DfE to release its latest statutory guidance on school travel over the winter; have not released anything since 2014; when document comes out will undertake a review and update own policy; any changes would be subject to consultation
  • Question about parents having a disability and being unable to transport their own children – mentioned that there is an ‘exceptional circumstances’ criteria and these are considered on a case-by-case basis; also undertake route safety assessments too
  • Question about the slinky bus services – this is an on demand, responsive service across the county, to fill gap in public transport network; run in each district council areas (2 per area) and there are 11 vehicles currently; aimed at those who have no alternatives available to use; people have to be flexible and prioritise patient transport journey; runs 9 am – 5 pm; may also be used as a school bus; mention made about volunteer drivers used in social services and health mainly and not used generally in ‘normal’ home to school transport; are doing some work with the NHS to bring in more volunteer drivers; mentioned impact of fuel prices though
  • Question about school admissions and school transport provision – clarified that schools follow the published admission arrangements when allocating school place and oversubscription issues; if the consequence of that means that the child has to go to another school and that school is over statutory walking distance, then as a local authority we step in vast touched your duty to ensure that child can attend a school that is suitable for them; however, if a parent chooses a school by preference which is neither the nearest or catchment school in Somerset, than it is for that parent to make their own transport arrangements.


On behalf of the Committee the Vice Chair thanked Dr Hart, Mr Curd and Mr Parrett for the detailed information.


It was agreed: -

(a)  to note the update and current position and proposed next steps and development

(b)  to add school transport to the Committee’s work plan for refreshed Council policy (to reflect statutory guidance and possible discretionary changes)

(c)   the Chair and Vice Chair to discuss further a possible Task and Finish Group for SEND transport, to include provision for pre and post school club attendance, for example.


Supporting documents: