Transformation of travel support for children and young people - latest updates
14 August 2023
Cheshire East Council embarked on a three-year change programme in April 2023 to improve and modernise travel support for children and young people across the borough.
The council provides travel support (also known as school transport) for nearly 3800 children and young people. This vital service enables eligible children to attend a school or college that meets their needs as close as possible to where they live. Travel support may be provided to those who live some distance away from their nearest school or college, where the route for them to walk is unsafe or who have to travel further to have their needs met, for example, in a special school,
Travel arrangements for September 2023
The travel arrangements for September are well underway although we are still receiving new applications which means changes are still being made.
Where contracts with operators have been subject to change (out to tender), parents and carers have been notified where their child’s travel arrangements have been on either tender phase 1, 2 or 3.
- Tender phases 1 and 2 - contracts have mostly been awarded and letters to parents and carers have been sent.
- Tender phase 3 - prices have been received, contracts are being awarded and we are aiming to update parents and carers by 31/07/23.
We anticipate the need for a further tender phase and we will make parents aware of the expected timeline for communications and award as soon as possible.
Suppliers will be starting to contact parents/carers over the next few weeks to see if they would like a meet and greet session.
Where travel arrangements are not changing in September, we hope to send letters to parents and carers in early August.
Progress on the Transformation Programme to date
Personal Travel Budgets (PTB’s)
A personal travel budget (PTB) is a cash amount awarded to parents/carers as an alternative to expensive home to school/college taxi journeys, to enable them to make their own personalised and flexible travel arrangements. Following consultation with parents and carers on changes to the PTB offer for children and young people who are eligible for free school transport, recommendations were put to the children and families committee on 10 July 2023. The recommendations looked to address the mileage rate used to calculate the PTB, which is low in comparison to other councils, simplify the claim process and build in flexibility for exceptional cases.
The committee approved the following recommendations:
- An increase of the current mileage rate for PTBs from 25p per mile to 45p per mile, effective from the start of the next academic year (September 2023).
- The proposed changes to the school transport policies and procedures in relation to the process for claiming PTBs, including removing the requirement for parents / carers to provide proof of attendance, arrange regular monthly payments and provide flexibility within the scheme for exceptional cases.
Communications with parents/carers directly affected by the changes will be made in the near future.
Independent Travel Training
We have been looking at other areas who provide support to children and young people with special needs to enable them to travel independently. We have also visited local schools and settings to see how they could support with this initiative, along with discussing this with the Parent Carer Forum.
New Travel Support Policies
In the next few months we will be reviewing all of our policies in relation to travel support to ensure that these reflect the new ways of supporting children with their travel arrangements. This will also include looking at the charges for post-16 young people with SEND and the cost of spare seats.
Available Walking Routes
We are progressing with the reclassification of two routes currently assessed as unavailable walking routes. These are routes to school where highways improvements mean that they can now classified as safe for children to walk to school. This means that a number of children who are currently eligible will no longer receive free school transport.
These details will be brought to the children and families committee in September with a recommendation to implement these following a notice period.
Communications with affected parents/carers will be made as soon as the committee has made its decision in line with the councils existing policies for school transport.
We are reviewing other routes to see if there are any changes we can make to make these safe too.
Engagement with bus and taxi companies
We are changing the way that we engage with the bus and taxi companies who currently provide transport for children and young people and looking to encourage new suppliers to the market. A new way of tendering routes to school/college will be in place and events to raise awareness with bus and taxi companies have taken place.
The first changes to transport arrangements as a result of this work will take place in January 2024 and it is possible that there may be a change to some existing arrangements (i.e. a different vehicle and driver may be taking some children to school/college from that date). We aim to keep any disruption to a minimum and will expect all drivers to be introduced to families before the start of term. It is intended that these arrangements will provide consistency in the longer term.
How will I be kept updated on progress?
We will continue to update all those affected through briefings such as this, that will be emailed to parent/carers.
We have set up a new inbox where we will log all comments and input to the transformation of travel support for children and young people.
If your child has additional needs, then the Parent Carer Forum is keen to hear your views. See their website for details of how to join or contact them.