School transport changes slammed for ‘putting vulnerable children’s lives at risk’

Posted On 11 Sep 2019 at 7:57 am

A new school transport contract has been slammed for “putting vulnerable children’s lives at risk” after dozens of parents and carers shared their experiences.

At least 30 children have been left without vital transport to and from Downs View and Hill Park special schools. Yesterday 15 Hill Park children were left stranded at home.

Two councillors have been to see for themselves the scenes described by one veteran chair of governors as “chaos”.

Councillors Mary Mears and Lee Wares said: “We are troubled that this council is potentially putting the lives, mental and physical wellbeing and safeguarding of children with special educational needs and disabilities and vulnerable adults are at risk.”

Children with learning difficulties have been seen banging their heads against the windows inside taxis as they face waits of up to half an hour outside their schools.

One parent refused to let their child go in the council’s transport again until the mess is sorted out because of safety fears.

And in another case a parent heard nothing about a child’s lift because the council had been liaising with the child’s other parent despite a restraining order having been imposed.

Since the new cost-cutting contracts for 320 pupils came in last week dozens of children have missed school because vital transport failed to arrive.

And teachers are each estimated to be missing well over an hour of classroom every day because escorts are not allowed to bring the children into school under the new contracts.

In once case two taxis were sent but the first couldn’t take the child’s wheelchair and the second was too small despite the parent having sent in the measurements.

A third taxi was promised but never showed up.

Children with conflicting needs are being carried together because – one parent said – the routes appear to have been drawn up to save money in the short term.

The parent added that if even one parent sued Brighton and Hove City Council, any proposed savings could be wiped out.

Councillor Mary Mears

Single parents were reported to be missing work and putting their jobs at risk, potentially costing the public purse more than any saving to the council.

Former council leader Mary Mears and her Conservative colleague Lee Wares have written to council chief executive Geoff Raw in the hope of bringing their concerns to the Children, Young People and Skills Committee next Monday (16 September).

When they last tried to ask about the new contracts, the committee’s former chair, Councillor Nick Childs, said that he wasn’t in the business of defending “petty bourgeois local monopolies”.

But the Labour councillor has been accused of defending instead a private contractor from the north west, Edge Public Solutions. Edge was brought into save money by handing the previously well-run local service to outside firms.

Councillor Childs’s remarks were believed to have been a reference to City Cabs, the Brighton and Hove taxi firm which previously ran a service being universally praised by parents.

But parents criticised the current “shambles”, with one saying: “Before, it was properly co-ordinated. Now with several contractors, they’re all turning up at once.

“The children aren’t meant to be waiting more than five minutes before being taken into school but it’s been almost half an hour.”

Councillor Lee Wares

One taxi driver “off-loaded children on the street because they could not access the school grounds or secure a staff member”.

The council was accused of planning a transport service designed to carry not kids but cardboard boxes.

Councillors Mears and Wares said that all 54 members of the council had a duty of care as corporate parents that the council was currently breaching.

Despite asking questions of officials for months, parents and the two councillors said that little or no proper information had been given in reply.

In their letter to Mr Raw, the Councillors Mears and Wares said: “It is our collective responsibility to ensure this service is delivered properly and appropriately.

“It is our duty to collectively oversee and scrutinise the situation, acting swiftly and radically if necessary to put things right.

“It is the administration’s responsibility to make this happen and through this committee (Children, Young People and Skills) we hope that you will agree to our request for the sake of those that are impacted by the school transport service.”

An earlier version of this story included one observer reporting that a child had arrived at school with their hands taped together.

Downs View executive head Adrian Carver said: “The child with ‘taped hands’ is a Downs View pupil. The situation is longstanding, is not a safeguarding or safety issue and is certainly nothing to do with the current substantial difficulties and issues around home to school transport.

“It is an agreed approach which enables someone (at their choice not imposed) as a means to support behavioural and sensory self-regulation. It is not something which is undertaken by the vehicle crew.”

  1. Donnaa Reply

    My son is affected. He will miss the start of school today due to a late pick up as that is all they could arrange. I will probably end up having to collect him which means a 3 hour round trip.

  2. Debby Norris Reply

    This is affecting our family. No communication from LA about the exact transport to expect which vastly changed from the prior year. Taxi that did come was unsuitable for the children being collected which included a wheelchair that couldn’t fit in a 5 person taxi taking 4 children plus wheelchair plus escort in rear
    Taxi provider overruled LA to put on the correct taxi.
    It’s taking 30 minutes to get children off the taxis at the schools due to changes made to save money for insurance costs. It takes 30 minutes to get children to taxis at the end of a school day. This has never been the case or procedure before so children have no idea what’s happening & why. School staff & families are managing behaviours as well as taxi drivers & staff. But these behaviours weren’t witnessed in this magnitude before.
    Our children are being exploited to save money on a contract that costs £5 per brighton & hove resident a year. Who wouldn’t give £5 a head a year in their family to ensure these children are supported safely from home to school/college? It’s outrageous appalling & must be changed now.

  3. Jonathan Simons Reply

    Totally shocking that a supposedly “socialist” administration is making children with special educational needs suffer for their incompetence

    Nick Childs and Labour should be ashamed of describing the previous arrangement as “petty bourgeois local monopolies” – it worked!

    Now they’re running some kind of pseudo free market with the lives of the city’s children

  4. Martin Jones Reply

    When looking at Contracts using public money there is a duty for both Councillors and officers to improve Equality and not reduce it at all times. Best value tendering is not the cheapest as any public body should know.

    These vulnerable children and families are suffering directly by decisions made at our Council.

    The Public Sector Equality Duty was made Law in 2010 so once the crisis is sorted out there should be prosecution as this is a clear breach of that Law.

  5. Rob Arbery Reply

    Great article, and it’s only getting worse today. Absolute silence from the LA as they try to sweep it under the rug. This great city of Brighton and Hove prides its self on inclusion and tolerance – unless of course your child with SEN, ignored and abandoned. Nearly none of the promises made during the consultation have been kept. The new provision is in crisis.

  6. Marianne Moore Reply

    It is verging on the criminal that our vulnerable children are being subjected to this , it is causing horrendous stress to them, their families and the staff that care for them. These are human beings , not parcels to be delivered. Their precious education is being impacted and the council will be to blame.

  7. Nuttyaunt Reply

    It’s a shambles & such risk for our vulnerable children & adult all save few pennies why we had have all these changes are children don’t like change!

  8. Local resident Reply

    At the end of the day it’s a school which is being enlarged against so many complaints, insufficient parking not only for teachers but for pupils as well, the Council will not listen yet parking chaos every morning every afternoon, parents parking on double yellow lines yes with blue badges but yes still outside a school and on double yellow lines, an accident waiting to happen, with coaches, taxis, and parents all arriving at the same time how on Earth can the residents get out to get to work ontime is a nightmare, and those wishing to take their own children to school now have to leave an hour earlier, the coach and taxis drivers who park anywhere they want are verbally rude and threatening, and many complaints have been made to these companies, I blame the Council who will not listen to common sense.

  9. Heidi B Reply

    what an utter mess!!
    The council are trying to blame the providers and the providers saying that they never accepted the contract to start with.
    No communication from the LA, you have to chase them daily to find out what is happening.
    I’m still waiting to find out when we will have transport.
    The stress and anxiety this has caused us is unbelievable, we shouldn’t be in this position.

  10. Natalie Reply

    This is outrageous. Our son attends hill park and his transport pick up and collection times have been changed with no consultation which impacts on our ability to get our other two children to their school on time. The local authorities response to this so far is ‘there’s nothing we can do about that we are not changing the times’. We have been lucky with a reasonable driver and escort who is doing his best to collect our son earlier – but of course this raises another concern about due to hill parks recently changed later opening time – how long is our son Sat in a minibus outside school unable to get out and go in? To read about a child’s hands being tied together and children stuck in transport for 30 minutes banging heads on Windows is so distressing – especially for us parents whose children are affected by this.

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