School run crisis: Scottish disabled children endure stressful, unsafe journeys while mums forced to abandon careers so kids can attend school
Shrinking school transport budgets and confused policies are pushing many families with disabled children in Scotland to the brink, new research from disability charity Contact reveals.
As part of an inquiry into school transport for UK families with disabled children, the charity’s survey of 87 families in Scotland found that:
• Nearly half (44% and mostly mums) said that school travel arrangements for their disabled child meant that they can’t work or have had to decrease working hours.
• Nearly a quarter (23%) said their child’s journey to school is stressful which makes it harder for their child to learn.
• Parents also highlighted the poor quality and suitability of some school transport services with many concerned about vehicle safety as well as the training and communication of staff.
Susan Walls, Contact Manager in Scotland, said: “Our survey reveals that for disabled children and their families, school transport, whatever aspect you look at, is in crisis. It’s an integral part of a child’s education but if a child can’t get to school, or has a stressful experience getting there, they aren’t able to learn or take part in the school day like other children.
“Parents tell us that some local authorities are reducing or changing school transport services often with little notice. Some are offering unsuitable transport, charging for it, or removing it altogether. The system is broken. We know councils are having to make difficult decisions due to budget cuts, but a small change to school transport for disabled children can have far reaching and devastating consequences for families who already face significant challenges in their daily lives.”
Families who completed the online survey highlighted the impact poor school transport has on their lives, including additional stress and worry for parents, behaviour changes and loss of independence for children and young people and parents having to give up work resulting in a loss of income and financial hardship.
Contact’s survey of Scottish families with disabled children also found that:
• One in 8 (12%) families fully fund their child’s school transport, with a quarter of those paying between £300- 500 per year
• 20% say their child is late for school once or twice a week due to travel arrangements
Elaine Glyn from North Lanarkshire whose 15-year-old daughter Zara has multiple complex disabilities, said: “We have found dealing with the local authority for my daughter’s transport to school extremely stressful at times. Fortunately recently our transport has been fine because the local authority has a three year contract with the travel companies. But previously contracts were put in place for only a 1 year period. This was really challenging because children with complex needs like Zara take months to get to know the escort and driver and vice versa.
“A few years ago the contractor we were provided with sent 6 different escorts to Zara within 2 months, they seemed to think this was acceptable. After again many emails and conversations with the contractor and Local Authority this was rectified. The unnecessary pressure this puts on us as a family is ridiculous and could so easily be avoided.”
As a result of families speaking out in Contact’s School Transport Inquiry, the Westminster government has announced a major review of school transport statutory guidance to make sure English local authorities are providing school transport for eligible children with additional needs. We are urging the Scottish Government to follow suit and strengthen the law to make it clear that education authorities must provide school transport for children because of their additional support needs, disability or mobility problems.
• Contact is a UK charity providing support to families with disabled children, whatever the disability or condition through a range of services including a free helpline: 0808 808 3555. For more information about Contact visit www.contact.org.uk
• 1 Between February and March 2017 Contact ran an online survey for families with disabled children about school transport. We received 2568 responses. Almost three quarters (73%) of those who completed the survey had school transport for their son or daughter provided by the local council.
• 2 Nearly a quarter (23%) of families who requested free council school transport had been refused. More than half of this group said they were not asked for information about their child’s disability before the council told them their decision, despite this being a legal duty for local authorities.
• School transport is a top concern of parents calling Contact’s helpline, which is why Contact launched an inquiry into school transport. Contact has produced a new factsheet for parents of disabled children about school transport and their rights and entitlements. It’s available on the Contact website www.contact.org.uk
• Contact’s School Transport Inquiry consists of the following elements:
o Online survey
o Desktop research on school transport policies
o A parliamentary hearing at the Palace of Westminster, chaired by Caroline Ansell, former MP for Eastbourne. The session brought together parents, transport providers and policy makers.