The Strategic Lead Education Support Service
introduced the report and stated that it provided an overview of
home to school transport. She explained that Thurrock Council had a
statutory duty to ensure children between the ages of 5 and 16, and
in some cases young people up to age 25 with an Education, Health
and Care Plan (EHCP), could get to school. She stated that
currently Thurrock Council assisted 1161 pupils get to school,
either through contracted bus routes, train ticket reimbursement,
or payments to parents for fuel. She stated that the Council were
committed to ensuring sustainable home to school travel for
children, and the team were currently undertaking a review of
school routes, including those that had previously been deemed
The Strategic Lead Education Support Service explained that the team were considering introducing travel training for young people in education that had complex SEND needs. She felt that this would help some young people with SEND become more independent as they would have someone accompanying them on their route to and from school for a minimum of three months, with a view to them completing an assessment and becoming able to travel on their own. She stated that for those children with highly complex needs, for example children attending Beacon Hill Academy, all passenger transport would be retained. She added that the team were also introducing a new IT module that would help support transport providers and contracted route drivers.
The Strategic Lead Education Support Service moved on and explained that although the team were considering all routes to school, no decision had been taken yet, in particular no decision regarding the route from East Tilbury to St Cleres. She explained that the team regularly reviewed and investigated routes to schools and would continue to consider potential alternative options for travel, for example pupils utilising the train service. She stated that no conclusions or decisions had been agreed, but legal advice was being sought to determine which routes had the potential to be made safe. She stated that the team would be talking to parents, Councillors and the school before any decision was made. She explained that currently six buses took children from East Tilbury to St Cleres, and the team would be looking at all safety and capacity aspects, and had undertaken a professional risk assessment. She explained that the eligibility criteria for free home to school transport would remain the same and therefore any child with a low income family, or who lived more than three miles away from their school, would be eligible to apply for free travel.
The Strategic Lead Education Support Service explained that for some post-16 students who would not be able to utilise contracted travel anymore, the travel training programme would be offered, which would help improve their independence. She added that the team were currently working with year 11 students regarding travel training, but this would be lowered so year 9 students would also be able to access the programme. She added that the team were also focussing on sustainable travel, for example pupils utilising bus and train services, which would reduce carbon emissions. She added that the team were also considering introducing personal travel budgets which would be given directly to parents and would allow parents to choose the most suitable transport for their child and would give parents more freedom. She stated that the personal travel budgets would be given directly to parents before the start of term, which would ensure that no parent would be in financial difficulty waiting for reimbursements. She stated that this work would be completed in four to six weeks, and would be ready for introduction by September 2022.
The Strategic Lead Education Support Service added that the team were also recruiting a behaviour support specialist who would support children who had behavioural issues and needed support travelling to and from school. She stated that the specialist would travel with them to school and ensure that their journey was comfortable and not stressful. She summarised and stated that a travel survey had been given to St Cleres in December 2021 to provide an insight into pupils and parents travel patterns and safety, and emphasised that as there would be no change in policy, the Council did not need to undertake a more formal consultation.
The Chair opened the debate and stated that there were some good proposals contained within the report, such as the travel training programme, but felt concerned regarding other proposals. She questioned the overspend of the home to school transport budget. The Corporate Director Children’s Services replied that the service was overspent by approximately £800,000 and the proposal to remove school buses from East Tilbury to St Cleres would save approximately £200,000. She stated that the decision to consider all available routes was to ensure that children travelled to school in the best way, and that currently no routes were being stopped. She added that the team had to be mindful of budget pressures, but the overspend would not be solely saved through travel training or the removal of contracted bus services. She stated that the team would support SEND children to travel differently.
Councillor Kent queried the total budget of the home to school transport team. The Corporate Director Children’s Services replied that the approximate budget was in excess of £1million. Councillor Kent felt that £800,000 was a large overspend and queried if a £150,000 savings projection had already been agreed for next years’ budget. He also queried what specific COP26 sustainability goals would be met through the home to school transport proposals. He asked how many tonnes of carbon emissions would be saved through the planned removal of the school buses. He felt that a baseline level of carbon emissions data needed to be collected before the team could decide if the removal of the school buses would be environmentally beneficial. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied that the team were currently looking into sustainable travel and overall COP26 goals, but that sustainable travel had been an important part of the summit. She stated that the team could look into the baseline air quality figures to determine the impact of the school buses. Councillor Kent moved on and asked if a mode of transport could be deemed as a safe route to school, rather than a physical route. He questioned if the current school bus from East Tilbury to St Cleres had been deemed unsafe. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service stated that a mode of transport, for example buses or trains, could be deemed as a safe route to school. She added that the current contracted bus route had been deemed to be a safe route to school, but other forms of transport such as the walking route, were in the process of being determined safe or unsafe. She added that currently 376 pupils utilised the current bus service between East Tilbury and St Cleres. Councillor Kent asked if children eligible for free transport would be reassessed after the introduction of the new personal transport budget. The Strategic Lead Education and Support Service responded that parents had to reapply for home to school transport on a yearly basis, but applicants would be offered a personal transport budget if appropriate. She emphasised that the same eligibility criteria for free home to school transport would remain. Councillor Kent felt that the travel training programme was a good idea, but questioned why nineteen children had been identified as eligible, eleven had started the programme and only one child had successfully completed it. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied that some children could take longer to complete the programme and the three children listed in the report were still in the process of completing their training. She stated that it could take up to six months for some children to become fully confident travelling independently. Councillor Kent asked if the results from the survey with St Cleres could be shared with the Committee. The Strategic Lead Education and Support Service replied that she would share the results to the Committee, but stated that the main outcomes had been that children did not know their options for safe travel to school. She highlighted that the response rate had been low, and it had mostly been completed by parents rather than children.
Councillor Anderson queried what the benchmark was for eligibility for free travel. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied that any parent on income support or whose child attended a school more than three miles away could apply for free home to school transport. Councillor Sammons stated that the majority of children who utilised the bus service from East Tilbury to St Cleres lived more than three miles from the school, so would remain eligible for free transport. She felt that therefore the bus service would need to continue running to ensure children eligible for free transport could get to school. She felt that by removing the contracted buses, emissions would increase as parents would be more likely to drive their children to school, which could equate to an additional three hundred cars on the road. She felt that it would also increase safety concerns near St Cleres as parents would struggle to park. She added that the platform at East Tilbury train station was small, and was often full with children travelling to or from other schools or commuters, and an additional 300 students would increase safety concerns on the platform. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied that the team were considering all routes and all options, and were thinking about all potential alternatives.
Councillor Snell echoed comments from Councillor Sammons and felt that the proposed removal of the bus service would increase the number of parents driving their children to school. He asked if the team had considered keeping the bus service but asking children ineligible for free transport to pay. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied that every option was being considered and the team would communicate any decisions or proposed decisions to the Committee. Councillor Massey stated that as Ward Councillor for East Tilbury he had concerns regarding the removal of the bus service. He confirmed that no officers had walked the route between East Tilbury and St Cleres and felt that the route in its current state could not be declared safe. He asked if the legal advice being sought from the team was from the Council’s internal lawyers or an external law group. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied that the team were consulting with the Council’s internal legal team and external counsel. Councillor Massey highlighted the government requirements for a safe walking route, and stated that a route needed to have a kerb to be declared safe, and the route between East Tilbury and St Cleres did not have a kerb. The Chair sought clarification that there was only one road from East Tilbury to St Cleres and this road would need to be declared as a safe walking route before the bus service could be cancelled, and the Strategic Lead Education Support Service agreed that this was the case. She added that the decision for a walking route to be declared safe had to be based in law and the team would look at all options before a decision was made.
The Parent Governor Representative added that by removing contracted transport, attendance and attainment at St Cleres could fall as some parents would not drive their children to school, and some children would not have the motivation to find other alternative routes. She asked if the Council would ensure that the direct travel payment to parents was only used for the intended purpose. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied that the team would be working to ensure that the payments would only be used for travel, and were developing a system for this purpose.
Councillor Snell echoed Councillor Massey’s comments and stated that the government had outlined the necessary amenities along a road before it could be declared safe. He felt that currently the road did not meet this criteria, for example there were no kerbs, and therefore did not feel that it could be declared safe by the legal team. The Chair agreed with this comment as the road did not have a grass verge or kerb, which meant children would have to travel through farmer’s fields, and there was no street lighting or drainage systems. Councillor Sammons added that when the road was being litter picked by the Cleaner and Greener team, traffic management systems had to be implemented and one lane of the road closed to ensure their safety. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service agreed that the current road between East Tilbury and St Cleres could not be declared a safe route in its current state as there was no verge or pathway. She emphasised that the Council would not put children at risk travelling to or from school, and were simply considering all options and alternatives.
Councillor Akinbohun asked if there was any way the route could be made safe as some children and young people preferred walking. Councillor Massey felt that if the route was improved with adequate kerbing and lighting, it could be made safe for children to walk, but it was not safe in its current state. The Strategic Lead Education Support Service replied if there was investment into kerbs or cycle paths along the route that it could be made safe. She explained that this could come in future with the proposed developments in East Tilbury, which would increase the number of houses in the area and improve local infrastructure.
The Chair asked why only one young people had completed the travel training programme. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that it had been a challenge to get young people enthused about the scheme. She stated that young people had been excited about the prospect of the scheme, but the team had struggled to get young people to engage once the scheme had been developed and rolled out. She explained that this was why the team had decided to roll the scheme out to younger children, starting in year nine. She added that the Council had also been working closely with parents to better understand how they worked with their child on travel training to build partnership working. She stated that the pandemic had also unsettled parents whose child travelled via public transport to school, and this had made it more difficult to engage. The Chair felt pleased that the scheme was being rolled out to younger pupils with complex needs. She highlighted that some children with very complex needs would be unable to travel independently even with the scheme in place. Councillor Kent added that the Council had a statutory duty to ensure that children could get to school safely, particularly those children with SEND and complex needs. He felt that any proposed changes should be centred on the child and minimising disruption to young people’s educations, by ensuring that SEND children could travel to school in a stress-free environment. The Assistant Director Education and Skills stated that the team worked in partnership with schools and parents to ensure that the child remained at the centre of the service.
The Chair proposed an additional recommendation reading “The Committee agree that the route between East Tilbury and St Cleres School is an unsafe walking route for children.” This additional recommendation was agreed unanimously.
RESOLVED: That the Committee:
1. Reviewed and commented upon the work undertaken related to Home to School Transport and Post 16 SEND Transport in relation to the areas outlined within this report.
2. Agreed that the route between East Tilbury and St Cleres School is an unsafe walking route for children.
The Strategic Lead Education Support Service, and Councillors Massey and Sammons left the meeting at 8.31pm.