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Home to School transport

Volume 559: debated on Monday 25 February 2013

The Petition of residents of Durham,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the Home to School Transport Guidance and Education Act 1996 does not make adequate provision for children travelling safely to and from school and that it should be amended to set a new statutory threshold of 2 miles to access free school transport; to properly define a safe route to school as one that considers issues of lighting topography, degree of isolation and other relevant matters and defines a safe route as one that can be walked safely by secondary school aged children without being accompanied by an adult.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to amend the Home to School Transport Guidance and Education Act 1996 accordingly and ensure that all households in receipt of any earnings replacement or means tested benefit or tax credits shall have access to free home school transport.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Official Report, 29 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 872.]

[P001153]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Education:

Having confidence in the safety of their children on the home to school journey is of paramount importance to every parent. I want pupils to be able to travel to school safely. It is the responsibility of local authorities to decide whether a route is safe or not, having had regard to the guidance produced by the Department for Education.

Existing Home to school Travel and Transport Guidance, to which local authorities have a duty to have regard, suggests that in assessing walking route safety, the assessment should be conducted as if children are accompanied. However, the guidance also makes provision for local authorities to consider whether it is reasonably practical for the child’s parent/carer to accompany the child on a route which would otherwise be classified as too dangerous to walk in reasonable safety. Parents have a right to appeal any decision not to provide transport support. Following our Efficiency and Practice Review, I am considering strengthening the transparency of those appeals processes so as to ensure parents are clear on what basis (and information) all such decisions are made by local authorities.

The guidance sets out that in assessing the safety of a route, consideration should be given to risks a child might face and that a range of factors are taken into consideration, including, for example, the child’s age; whether risks might be mitigated if the child were accompanied by an adult; road width and the existence of pavements; the volume and speed of traffic and the existence of street lighting etc. This list is not exhaustive and I look to local authorities to work with their communities, even in times of reducing public expenditure, to give parents the confidence that routes are safe.

There are no plans at this stage to amend the statutory walking distances, given that local authorities have discretionary powers to make necessary transport arrangements as appropriate; the flexibility in existing guidance and the right of parents to appeal against a decision not to award transport.