How Travel Assist is helping thousands of children every day

Councillor Kate Booth, cabinet member for children’s wellbeing, talks about the support given to help children with special educational needs get to school, as well as the challenges faced in keeping such a huge operation running.

Birmingham City Council helps transport almost 6,000 children to school every day, via minibus, taxi and use of bus and train passes. The service mostly supports those children with special educational needs and disability who can’t be expected to walk to school because of a disability or issues related to their special educational needs. However, home to school transport is also provided, where needed, for children living in temporary accommodation, children in care and other children who may be in low-income families and struggling to get to school without support.

Of the children the service supports, 4,250 are transported using taxis and minibuses, with some of the 600 transport routes having a guided service, for those children assessed as needing a guide whilst on route to school.

This is the largest provision of home to school transport, and the largest guided service, in the country; all through primary and secondary years. It is a massive operation, with transport reviewed in-year and every year, and inevitable changes at the start of every academic year due to pupils moving through the school system and their needs changing.

And every year we have increasing demand on the service, though this is certainly not unique to Birmingham.

Here in Birmingham we have made a number of improvements to the service. As our recent Ofsted report said, good-quality ‘travel training’ is having a positive impact on young people’s outcomes, and parents and pupils acknowledge that this helps to develop independence. Ofsted also acknowledged the positive effect the part-time transport occupational therapy role is having, helping those who are not accessing education, due to issues with transport, to attend more regularly.

We will also be introducing an app that allows parents and carers to track progress of the minibus so they will know when their child arrives at school. This is something that parents have asked for and tell us will help enormously to allay any concerns about transport. It will also help parents see if a minibus is delayed because of traffic, or an accident so they don’t begin to worry if the minibus is running late.

There have been some concerns raised recently by a small number of parents about changes to one of our school routes, where a guide is no longer needed. I know any change is difficult but any change is made on a case by case basis, according to a child’s needs; we have a finite number of guides and we must ensure they are primarily on routes where they are essential.

It is not always straight forward; some children who do not need a guide may be on a route where other children have been assessed as needing a guide, but that guide is there specifically for those children who have that need. Parents will, in the future, be told whether or not their child is assessed as needing a guide, so they will know if that guide is there for their child or not.

All decisions are made based on assessed need, but we do need to constantly review the service we provide. Birmingham has a large number of minibus provision compared to many other local authorities, and there is a huge cost associated with this service so we must ensure scarce resources go to those most in need. The total cost of our guided service is £6.2m every year; add to this non-guided minibus routes and taxi provision, and the average cost per child per year is £4,800.

So there are huge pressures on the service as we are asked to do more with less. We will continue to listen to feedback, taking on board the views of parents and carers and never forgetting we are dealing with vulnerable children, but among all the competing priorities we must ensure our resources reach those with the greatest need.

This blog was posted on 11 November 2018

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