Disabled children in Northants missing school due to local authority transport problems

A number of children with special educational needs are unable to get to school because the local authority can't sort transport for them

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 11:52 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 11:56 am
Amiee (left) is having to miss school because the local authority has not provided the transport she is entitled to. Pictured with her mum Louise and sister Harriet.

Some Northamptonshire special educational needs children are not going to school because the county council has not sorted out transport for them and may not do so until the end of October.

Staff at a special educational needs school in Northampton have resorted to collecting children on their way to work to bring into school because the local education authority says it has a backlog in processing applications. It’s a situation which a councillor who is trying to help half a dozen families has said is ‘unacceptable’ and is making ‘disabled children pay the price’ for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on local authority services.

Mum Louise Wright, whose 16-year-old disabled daughter Amiee is now missing at least three days per week at The Bee Hive sixth form college in Northampton due to transport issues, says she has been told by a county council staff member that it could be after October half-term or even Christmas before her daughter gets the school transport she is entitled to. In the meantime she is taking holiday and leaving home before 7am in the morning to get her daughter to school two days a week before then driving on to work.

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She said: “Not one person can tell me when our application might get looked at, add to this I’m aware of four other children who are unable to attend college for this same reason.

“Why is it as the parent of a disabled child you have to fight for absolutely everything to meet their needs?

“As if it wasn’t difficult and stressful enough. As if managing the thirty-odd different doctors and therapists she has to see wasn’t difficult enough. Then trying to hold down a job on top, it’s almost impossible and you feel like you’re spinning so many plates that at any moment they could all come crashing down around you.

“I can’t comprehend how a county council can get away with saying ‘we have a bit of a backlog’.

“Why should a child not be able to go to school because the local education authority has not been able to pull its finger out? I feel like they are falling disabled children.”

The Wrights pay for Amiee’s transport at a cost of £600 a year, but were unaware that they had to apply for school transport again as she was moving school. When they discovered in June they had to reapply because they had missed the deadline at that time were unable to afford the £50 fee because Mrs Wright had been furloughed from her grooming job. At the start of September they tried to send her in a taxi, but it did not work out. Amiee has a life-limiting neurodegenerative illness and has been very keen to return to school after lockdown.

Mrs Wright said: “Amiee has outlived her life expectancy. She loves going to her school as it is the one place in the world where she can be normal. The fact she now can’t go as she should is horrendous.”

Alexine Cox’s 19-year-old autistic daughter has also been told she will not have transport to her college in Northampton until after October half-term. The family missed the application deadline, because they were unaware of it, and say they cannot afford to pay the £60 a day transport costs themselves.

The Wellingborough mum said she feels as though the local authority does not care.

She said: “Due to Covid-19 my daughter has also been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. She has not seen her friends for months .

“She has not been out shopping as she is classed as vulnerable – the only time she been out is for a blood test once a month.

“College is the only place she feels accepted and ever had any friends.”

The local authority has a duty to provide school transport to eligible children. Parents had to apply for the transport by May, however due to coronavirus issues, some were unable to. Some parents were also not sure at that stage which school their child would be going to, due to delays caused by the education authority.

A notice on the local authority’s website says because of the Covid situation it is not able to consider late Post-16 applications for transport but will look at applications ‘as soon as possible’ on a first come first served basis. It advises parents to make their own arrangements in the meantime.

Executive head teacher at the Northgate School Arts College in Northampton, Sheralee Webb, says there are often issues with school transport in September but that matters were ‘usually sorted’ and that this is the first time she has ever had to ask staff to pick up pupils on their way to work.

She has also heard from some parents that the authority told them that the school should have informed them that their children were not on the transport list. Schools have no involvement with transport provision, which is entirely the responsibility of the local education authority.

She said: “We have a few students who are not in school because they do not have a way of getting here. We have one boy in Year 13 who is halfway through his course and has already missed six months due to lockdown. For him to get here it would involve taking three different buses. This could have a huge impact on him as he is missing out on his employability skills and so it could have a knock on impact on his ability to get a job.

“We have arranged some taxis for some children ourselves and we have one staff member who is picking a student up on her way to work and another who is coming in and then taking out the minibus. It is very worrying.

“I just can’t believe it is going to take the local education authority until October to sort out this problem.”

Labour county councillor Anjona Roy has been contacted by half a dozen parents whose children have been affected and says she has been ‘stonewalled’ by the council when she has tried to raise the issue over the past few weeks with the cabinet member for transport Cllr Jason Smithers and the council leader Matt Golby.

She said: “These children need school more than anybody else. Some of these parents are key workers and this is an absolute kick in the face.

“We have had to respond to various problems during this pandemic. Some of which we have responded to pretty well. But why should the parents of disabled children and the children themselves have to pay the price?

“At the moment I don’t know what the problem in the department is. I have not been given any answers and I don’t know whether anything would be any different if I was not an opposition councillor.

“I’m meant to have the power so I can work for people who get in touch with me. If I don’t have this power then it shows the system is a bit rotten. It’s not that I’m asking for business cards or perks. It is me asking for council tax payers to get a service they have paid for and are entitled to.”

The county council was given £35.4m earlier this spring by the Government to help handle its coronavirus response. Latest finance reports say that around £175,000 is currently unspent.

There is a forecast underspend on staffing within Environment, Planning and Transport (EPT) management of £100,000 due to the loss of two management posts as part of a department restructure.

The council also received £681,000 to help pay for extra transport to make sure students could return to school and be socially distanced . However on the first day back several schools were told at the eleventh hour by the LEA that this was not going to be possible. It is understood the situation has now been resolved.

Cllr Smithers said he had not received the correspondence from Cllr Roy, but was aware of the issue and was committed to finding a ‘quick solution’. He said all children whose families had applied before May had been given transport.

He said: “I have been speaking to a couple of families and I am aware there is an issue. This is something I am going to take up with our executive strategic director of place at our weekly catch-up tomorrow. It is a small minority who are affected, but we have to do better. It is not acceptable for children not to have the home to school transport that they are entitled to.

“We are working on reviewing the current services provided to identify where additional seats are available to offer to those parents who have asked to take up these spare spaces. However, due to social distancing, the number of spare spaces available is reduced this year and therefore spaces will be allocated based on the date of application. We’re making it a priority to work closely with schools and families so we can provide sufficient transport for those who qualify for it.”