Moves to make home to school transport in North Yorkshire fairer, more consistent and more efficient were agreed today by the County Council’s Executive.
The decision follows a 12-week public consultation on the proposals, which looked at bringing North Yorkshire County Council’s policy in line with Department for Education guidelines.
The local authority has a statutory responsibility to provide travel assistance between home and school for eligible children, but the proposals looked at the discretionary help the council provides above and beyond its statutory requirements. The changes predominantly affect students in mainstream education aged between four and 16.
North Yorkshire is responsible for transporting about 20,000 pupils a day and as the largest rural county in England, a large portion of its education budget is spent on transporting children to and from school. In 2018/19 it spent £24.7m, more than a quarter of its £88m education budget for children and young people.
The proposals agreed were:
- Make free transport available to the pupil’s catchment school or nearest school. Currently, the council offers transport to catchment schools and any school closer to their home address. This will still be available to all pupils living further than two miles from their nearest school (for children under the age of eight) or three miles (for those aged eight to 16.) It would not apply to special schools, which do not have catchment areas.
- Only providing free school transport to and from the pupils’ main home address. Transport to an additional address would involve a charge covering the cost of transport. This is in line with Government guidance. This would reduce the number of empty bus seats that arise where students receive two transport passes for two different addresses and allow more students to obtain a place on a bus.
- Collection from pick-up points, unless medical, mobility or special educational needs require door-to-door collection. Currently the authority uses a combination of pick-up points and door-to-door provision. The collection points would be safe areas pupils could walk to, such as existing bus stops. In areas where buses follow convoluted routes through housing estates, journeys to school can sometimes approach the maximum amount of permitted time. Under the proposals, pick-up points would keep to the main roads on such estates. Similarly, in cases where children living on farms are dropped off at their front door in individual cars or taxis commissioned by North Yorkshire, they would be collected at the nearest road. This would mean the council could commission larger vehicles to pick up a number of children and cut journey times, providing a more sustainable and environmental solution. These changes will be phased in gradually over the next four years.
- Providing free transport for all eligible children in the county when they start school in the reception year. Children in North Yorkshire presently only qualify for free transport when they turn five. It is hoped this will help parents who plan to return to work when their child starts school and bring the authority in line with neighbouring councils.
- A single rate charge for all discretionary transport. Discretionary transport is provided by the council to help students not eligible under the home to school transport policy.
- A £20 fee for replacement school transport bus passes. Passes are currently replaced for free. The initial proposal was to charge a £30 fee, but this was reduced in response to feedback via the consultation.
- An application process for home to school transport. The current system assumes all eligible children will require transport and services are commissioned accordingly. The application will take into account other formal arrangements which have been made for children, such as after-school clubs or child minders.
County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Education and Skills, said: “These changes set out to make home to school transport fairer, more consistent and more efficient. To date, much of the home to school transport services we have offered are above the statutory minimum.
“We held an extensive consultation and have responded to what people told us, for example in reducing the fee we are introducing for replacement bus passes.
“We want to protect transport from home to school for those who need it the most and for those who are entitled to it.”
The changes will not affect existing arrangements for pupils, until they reach a new admission point, that is from primary to secondary or from secondary to post-16 and beyond, or at the end of Year 3, when the statutory walking distance increases to three miles, and in a change of personal circumstances, such as a change of address.