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(UK) Kent: Co Council to cut back on free SPED busing; 'unsustainable financial pressure'

Mar 4, 2024, Kent Online: Families left with ‘no choice’ as Kent County Council confirm cuts to free school travel for teens with special educational needs and disabilities

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Terrified families are facing the “ridiculous” prospect of having to fork out £500 [$640] a year just to get their child to school.

It comes as Kent County Council (KCC) confirmed cuts to free school travel for teens with special educational needs will go ahead in the next school year.

This change, which will impact 939 students who currently receive post-16 transport, is part of the local authority’s attempt to balance the books as it faces a “severe and growing” set of financial pressures.

But families have criticised the changes, which will mean from September parents will have to pay for the taxis and minibuses their children have been taking to attend class.

Mum Mandy Swords, from Sheppey, has two children with special needs, Teagan and Kaitlyn, who currently use the cost-free transport service to get to school in Canterbury.

Mandy told KentOnline: “It’s ridiculous. I have no choice but to apply for KCC’s transport because we live on an island. My daughter’s got ADHD, autism and anxiety. . . .

Under the new transport policy, parents who have children with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), who are continuing their education, have been told to apply for a KCC 16+ travel card which costs £500 for the year ,or £510 if paid in instalments.

The new policy also includes the introduction of standard drop-off and collection times around the academic day, and the introduction of qualifying criteria for learners seeking transport for new education courses starting after their 19th birthday.

Students who have not accessed public transport previously, are also expected to engage with Kent’s travel training team which helps people with special needs learn how to travel to school or college by public transport.

However, KCC say if the travel saver option is not suitable - because the young adult has mobility problems or disabilities which inhibit their ability to access public transport – parents can approach KCC for subsidised support. . . .

Charlotte, 16, who lives in a rural area close to Herne Bay, is reliant on the cost-free taxi service to take her to her place of education. . . . 

Charlotte’s mother Amanda told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) she had fought hard to get her the free taxi service as getting a bus is out of the question because

Charlotte has anxiety and autism. . . .

Cllr Roger Gough says KCC are “coming into line with what many other local authorities have already done”

Leader of KCC Cllr Roger Gough (Con) said: “We are coming in line with what many other local authorities have already done.

“We are under regrettably unsustainable financial pressure, and we have to continue to look not just this year but, in the years, to follow at all the services we provide, the terms of which we do so, to ensure a sustainable future.” . . .

The council has confirmed this new policy will be in place from the new academic year, this September.

A KCC spokesperson said: “KCC spends about £10 million [$13M] annually on post-16 Special Educational Needs transport to schools and further education providers.

“The revised scheme remains generous and will still provide an average subsidy of 94% of the total cost of transport for all affected pupils and 97% for families from low-income backgrounds.”

The Local Government Association has warned that almost one in five English local authorities could be forced to issue a section 114 notice – an effective declaration it cannot balance its books – this year. . . .


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