As uncertainty continues over when and how children will fully return to the classroom, system ambitions must be set to support children with SEND.
IMPOWER has delivered over 20 home-to-school transport projects over the past eight years, so my colleagues and I read the recent Local Government Association report ‘Understanding the drivers for rising demand and associated costs for home-to-school transport’ with interest.
Whilst we agree with the recommendations within the report, their success would depend on how they were implemented. There are three key areas that need to be focused on:
Setting the right focus by reframing ambition
As the report states, many local authorities have managed pressures on home-to-school transport budgets by reducing their local eligibility criteria towards the statutory minimum. This has created a culture where parents ‘fight’ for their entitlements, and encourages defensive behaviour.
In a recent IMPOWER survey of over 300 parents and carers of children with SEND, 95% of respondents agreed they want their children to be as independent as possible. Authorities should support this by reframing the ambition of home-to-school transport to focus on enabling children and young people to maximise their independence (in line with what is appropriate for each individual) and helping to prepare them for adulthood. Independence, not eligibility, should be at the heart of home-to-school travel policies.
Understanding how to effectively manage demand
The report recommends that councils should “create the opportunities for a creative and mature dialogue with parents about transport options”. To do that, they need to understand and change behaviours by working with staff at the frontline. Local authorities should:
- Support staff to change the conversation at the front door, to ensure parents understand their responsibilities and staff are not inadvertently creating additional demand for services
- Use annual Education, Health and Care Plan reviews to take a longer-term view about what is achievable for each child (for example, whether planning could start now for independent travel training to be undertaken in two years’ time)
- Highlight the incentives of personal transport budgets and make the process of establishing and receiving one as accessible and easy as possible, focusing on the reasons why parents might be hesitant to change, such as the worry that they cannot return to their existing support if transferring to a personal transport budget is unsuccessful
Influencing behaviour both inside and outside the council
Home-to-school transport is a challenging area of local authority delivery, spanning multiple teams across different service areas, and we agree that clear strategic leadership across those teams is needed. This leadership needs to set an inclusive ambition of what ‘good’ looks like across the system, with shared governance and performance metrics, and a trajectory which enables and encourages a financially sustainable service.
It is important to recognise that by itself a local authority has limited influence within the complex systems it operates within. Councils need to recognise others who exert influence over parents, such as teachers and paediatricians. A clearer understanding of the home-to-school transport vision and offer could enable these key messengers to better support parents’ expectations.
For more information on IMPOWER’s home-to-school work, please do get in touch.