Panel aims to steer council towards a better home to school transport service

Ideas for an “ideal” home to school transport service for children with special educational needs are up for discussion this week.

An in-depth discussion about how it should operate in the future is on the agenda when the Home to School Transport Policy Panel holds a “virtual” meeting on Thursday (2 July).

After the “epic failure” last year, when many youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were left without transport, an independent review said that Brighton and Hove City Council had to ensure clear communication with parents, carers and schools.

On the agenda for Thursday’s meeting is a focused discussion on what an ideal service will look like as well as the situation this coming September.

In the current school year, eight firms have been taking about 470 children and young people with complex needs and disabilities to and from school, operating 177 different routes.

A senior councillor described the problems that arose after Brighton and Hove City Council agreed to pay cost-cutting consultants up to £500,000 to try to save £300,000 a year from a £2.4 million annual budget as an “epic failure”.

The consultants, Edge Public Solutions, have since walked away with £180,000 after persuading officials to switch from a conventional contract framework to a controversial “dynamic purchasing system”.

Rather than saving money, the new system ended up pushing the cost of the service about £1 million over budget.

It also created chaos at the school gates of two special schools – Hill Park in Portslade and Downs View in Woodingdean.

Problems with the service last year meant that some young people arrived at school in a distressed state after spending more than an hour travelling to school with other pupils.

The independent report said that children and young people’s voices must be heard when it comes to improving the service.

One of the critical elements is a working agreement with the Parent Carers’ Council (PaCC) to collaborate on improving the service’s new policy and practice.

The new policy is expected to be in place by Thursday’s meeting and includes input from Amaze, the charity for families with children and young people with disabilities.

A report going before the panel said that the council was committed to working with both organisations on co-producing the new policy.

It said: “PaCC and families using transport will be fully consulted on any changes to the service, and their feedback will be given full consideration and used to formulate policy and practice.

“Consultations should not take place during school holiday periods.

“PaCC will also expect that schools and colleges are similarly consulted.”

PaCC representatives will sit on the council’s new Home to School Transport Governance Board.

An Amaze worker who is also a parent or carer will be invited to all transport panels to provide “parent perspective”.

The virtual meeting is due to start at 12.30pm on Thursday and to be webcasy on the council website.

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