Free school transport for those with special needs ‘under review’ in Derbyshire

County Hall, Matlock.
County Hall, Matlock.

Free transport for some pupils with special educational needs is under review as Derbyshire County Council tries to save £157m over the next four years.

Reductions in government grants, inflation and greater demands on areas of the budget for adult social services and vulnerable children mean the council must rethink the way it delivers services.

It launched a consultation on plans to ask families of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) to contribute towards the cost of their transport to school or college.

Members of the cabinet will discuss the proposed changes on Tuesday, 6th May, which are to:

- Introduce a charge of £349 for sixth form pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities where transport is arranged by the council. This is in line with other sixth form transport users. Families on low incomes would be charged a lower rate of £233.

- Young adults aged 19 to 25 with a learning disability assessment would be charged £349 a year for transport if they started their course before their 19th birthday. For those over 19 when starting their course, free travel would only be given where the council deems it necessary.

The council’s policy of providing free transport for pre-school children with SEN is expected to remain unchanged.

Under the proposals the council would continue to meet its legal duty to provide free transport for eligible school-age pupils with special educational needs or a disability.

If agreed, the changes would come in to force in September.

However, in a bid to ease the financial pressure on families, the cabinet is expected to protect existing students who began courses in September 2013. They will not have to pay transport charges while they complete their studies.

Coun Kevin Gillott, the county council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The sheer scale of the budget cuts means we have to make some very difficult decisions.

“By 2018, the amount of money we have to spend providing services for Derbyshire people will have been cut by a third.

“Sadly, this means we have had to consider charging families of children with special educational needs for their transport to and from school.

“We’ve listened to what families have told us and taken this in to account and changed some of our original proposals as a result.

“We recognise the impact that these proposals will have on them financially which is why we’re asking cabinet to continue to fund free transport for pre-school children.

“We remain committed to helping parents of sixth form students by proposing a lower rate for those on low incomes and by protecting free transport for students while they complete a course started before September 2013.”

If the proposals are given the go-ahead it is expected to save the council around £150,000 a year in transport costs while generating an income of up to £36,000 a year.