Home to school travel policy - consultation

North Yorkshire Council has a statutory responsibility to provide travel assistance from home to school for eligible children.

Introduction

The council sets out its current policy in a document that is called the North Yorkshire Council home to school transport policy This was previously subject to consultation and implemented in 2019.

The current population at compulsory school age (5 to 16) of schools in North Yorkshire is c.75000 pupils and the number of those accessing free home to school transport is c.10500. Therefore, it can be said that the council’s policy and provision of free transport services is currently a factor for broadly 14% of the total pupil population aged 5-16 (5% Primary; 25% Secondary), and for c.86% it is not. The overall cost to the council of the provision of home to school travel is significant and rising at pace.

In June 2023 (with minor revisions in January 2024) the department for education published revised statutory guidance covering travel to school for children of compulsory school age travel to school for children of compulsory school age.

The revised guidance was not a change in legislation, but it provided both clarity on areas that were considered open to interpretation and also further direction to councils on how to deliver additional requirements for eligible children.

The council is consulting now on a proposed new home to school travel policy for North Yorkshire to ensure compliance with the new statutory guidance. The consultation stage draft of the proposed new policy constitutes a significant re-write of the current policy to more closely align with the language, style and content of the guidance.

This consultation also includes a review of the discretionary areas of the council's current policy, that is those existing provisions that are above and beyond the statutory requirements of the guidance.

Consultation content

This consultation document sets out the council's proposals and includes:

  1. financial background
  2. proposals regarding discretionary elements
  3. the proposed home to school travel policy – key differences
  4. information regarding policy implementation
  5. information about the equalities impact assessment
  6. consultees and timescale

This document should be read in conjunction with:

Out-of-scope

There are two policy elements that are to be out-of-scope for this consultation:

  • transport provision at Post 16 - there is a separate North Yorkshire Council Post 16 transport policy statement 2023-2024 that is supported by stand-alone department for education guidance
  • the council will wait for the update to that department for education guidance, which is anticipated later in 2024, before considering consultation on any Post 16 policy changes
  • sale of spare seats via paid travel permits – this is closely linked to Post 16 arrangements as all Post 16 eligibility is on a paid basis
  • the council will also wait for the update to the department for education Post 16 guidance before considering consultation on any policy changes regarding spare seats

The annual review of the subsidised charging rate for Post 16 and spare seats will take place as usual in Spring 2024, and the revised rates will apply to the 2024/25 academic year.

Part 1 – financial background

The cost of providing home to school travel is the third largest item of revenue expenditure for the council (behind adult social care and waste management). The total expenditure is projected to stand at c.£42m for the current financial year and this has more than doubled since 2015-16. The council is one of the highest spending local authorities in the country on home to school transport. The following table shows the total expenditure levels over time, together with a breakdown for each type of provision:

Financial year Total expenditure £m Mainstream school expenditure £m ‘Out-of-school’ expenditure £m Specialist provision expenditure £m
15-16 20.485 13.633 0.633 6.219
16-17 21.026 13.076 0.670 7.281
17-18 22.544 13.271 0.740 8.534
18-19 24.199 13.189 0.714 10.296
19-20 26.133 14.124 0.554 11.455
20-21 24.793 13.229 0.363 11.202
21-22 28.950 14.616 0.283 14.051
22-23 35.527 17.029 0.326 18.173
23-24 (forecast) 42.143 20.612 0.402 21.130

The increase in expenditure levels for school transport is broadly driven by two elements. Firstly, an increase in the number of eligible children. This is particularly relevant for specialist provision expenditure as the number of children who have an Education, Health and Care Plan and are eligible for transport has increased by 47% from 1,203 pupils to 1,772 pupils since 2018/19. The second is the operational cost of providing the services to maintain the required network of school transport for all school types.

The statutory requirements in the guidance around pupils with mobility, medical and Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND) (described in Part 3) are likely to increase the number of pupils who meet eligibility criteria and potentially lead to increased expenditure.

The council faces financial challenges in common with many local authorities. The financial position for school travel is considerable and a further rise in expenditure can be foreseen. This consultation therefore includes an examination of what changes could possibly be implemented in the new policy that would have the potential to reduce expenditure.

Part 2 - discretionary areas of the home to school travel policy

Discretionary areas that the council is consulting on:

A. Retention of early eligibility in the reception year

Under our current policy, travel assistance is awarded to eligible pupils from the start of Reception year. This is above and beyond the requirements of the department for education guidance which only requires that assistance be provided from the term following the fifth birthday (compulsory school age). This existing provision for ‘early eligibility’ assists families and aids the administration of the council's transport services for the whole academic year.

The council is proposing to keep this provision in the future travel policy.

B. Retention of extended eligibility in Year 3

Under our current policy there is continuation of the 2 miles statutory walking distance criterion until the end of the academic year (Year 3) instead of ceasing on the child’s eight birthday. This is above and beyond the requirements of the department for education guidance.

This existing provision avoids disruption to a child’s education during an academic year. It assists families and aids the administration of the council's transport services for the whole academic year.

The council is proposing to keep this provision in the future travel policy.

C. Amendment to the main eligibility criterion to be ‘nearest school (with places available)’ to match the statutory requirement

Our current home to school transport policy states that:

Free transport is provided to pupils from the start of reception year to the catchment school or the nearest school to their home address where the walking distance is:

  • over 2 miles (until the end of the school year in which a pupil turns 8)
  • over 3 miles (if aged 8 and over)

The statutory requirement confirmed by the department for education guidance 2023 is for transport to be provided to the nearest suitable school (with places available).

The main eligibility criterion within our current home to school transport policy is therefore above and beyond the requirements of the statutory guidance which only requires that transport be provided to the nearest suitable school (with places available).

The council is proposing to amend this criterion to match the statutory requirement, meaning that in future eligibility on catchment grounds would no longer apply.

The application of the current home to school transport policy means that children can have eligibility for transport to more than one school i.e. where their catchment school is not the nearest to their home address. However, the proposed policy change would mean that children would only have eligibility to one school, that being the nearest school to the home address (with places available). Please see the FAQs for more information on this proposal.

The council would expect to realise a financial benefit over time through this proposed change: transport costs in the future would be less than if the policy continued as it is.

Savings

Analysis undertaken in autumn 2023 on a large sample of currently eligible travellers suggested that the annual saving at the end of the policy transition period (when the new policy applies to all) on a like for like basis could be up to £2.82m. This figure is based on a number of assumptions, and much will depend on the extent to which the change in the transport arrangements influences future parental preference for schools, and that is difficult to predict with any certainty.

Further data and analysis on the potential localised impact of the policy is included in a separate document in this consultation.

D. Removal of eligibility on the basis on 50/50 second address

The current policy provision allows for transport to be provided at full cost recovery to a second address where a child lives with each parent or guardian for 50% of the school term time. This is above and beyond the requirements of the department for education guidance which has no expectation of provision to a second address.

Experience has shown that parents do not pursue this option once they are made aware of the cost, and there are currently no children that are being transported on this basis.

The council is proposing to remove this provision in the future travel policy to bring greater clarity to its position on this issue.

E. Removal of eligibility for the primary phase on low-income denominational grounds

Under the current policy free transport is provided to the nearest suitable primary school parents prefer because of their religion or belief, where the distance from home to school is more than two miles but not more than five miles. There is currently very low incidence of children being eligible for transport under this provision.

This policy provision is above and beyond the department for education statutory guidance which only has a requirement for eligibility at secondary phase on these grounds and not for primary phase.

The council is proposing to remove this element in the future travel policy to bring greater clarity to its position on this issue.

F. Removal of blanket eligibility to transport support for 2 days SEND transitions 

This current policy provision is a general approach to travel as part of transition arrangements which in practice has been found unfit for purpose. This element of the policy has not been reviewed since 2008.

The council is proposing that travel on transition is assessed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the Education, Health and Care Plan.

Part 3 - home to school transport policy – key differences

Read the  consultation draft of the proposed new home to school travel policy (pdf / 571 KB). The updated department for education guidance included a checklist for councils to work towards when reviewing and updating home to school travel policies. The council has reflected and updated its policy in line with this checklist.

SEND, medical and mobility needs 

One of the key areas where the updated guidance provides clarity concerns the eligibility of children with SEND, medical and mobility needs. It sets out that a child does not need to:

  • have an education health and care plan
  • have travel to school specified in their education health and care plan if they have one
  • attend a special school
  • live beyond the statutory walking distance

The guidance describes that “local authorities will need to assess eligibility on the grounds of special educational needs, disability or mobility problems on a case-by-case basis.”

This has potential implications for the numbers of children requesting and/or requiring assessment of eligibility. In the current policy this assessment is currently only undertaken following the issuing of an education health and care plan.

The consultation draft of the proposed new home to school travel policy sets out the council's proposals regarding these elements.

The table below highlights the other key differences in the proposed new policy, including the discretionary areas already described:

Current 2019 Policy Proposed 2024 policy
No clear index in the 2019 policy In line with the recent department for education guidance a clear introduction and index on what the proposed policy is about and how to find relevant areas of information.
Eligibility spread across 5 sections throughout the document Eligibility is grouped in section A explaining the categories, which is how the national guidance intended
No definition of nearest suitable used for eligibility in the 2019 policy Inclusion of the definition of nearest, suitable, and qualifying schools used to determine eligibility, including the naming of schools within an Education, Health and Care Plan
No explanation on how to apply for travel assistance How to apply is now explained in each category of eligibility
A section (4.3) on transport to a school on the ground of religion or belief This now is included within the low-income section of eligibility to which it applies
Section 6, additional provision for pupils with special educational needs limited to children with education health and care plan (Education, Health and Care Plan) Improved information and guidance for children with SEND, medical and mobility requirements, including individual assessments and not limited to children with education health and care plan
Limited information in the 2019 policy Improved information on suitability of travel arrangements
No sustainable travel section in the 2019 policy New section on sustainable travel
No contact details in the 2019 policy Contact details of local authority travel teams
No glossary in the 2019 policy Introduction of a glossary of terms
No department for education examples in the 2019 policy Inclusion of examples provided by the department for education on how the guidance is applied (Appendix 1)
Transport will be provided to the nearest and/or catchment over the statutory walking distance. Amendment of the eligibility criterion to be nearest suitable school (with places available)
Transport assistance to a second address at full cost recovery where this is 50/50 spilt Removal of eligibility to travel assistance to a second address
Transport to the nearest suitable primary school on the grounds of religion or belief for low-income families where the school is between 2-5 miles Removal of eligibility on primary phase of denominational grounds for low income
Two Transition days where possible for pupils with SEND Removal of set number of transition days for pupil with SEND

Part 4 – information regarding policy implementation

The policy publication is linked to the school admissions round, therefore any changes to the travel policy would apply to new admission and/or travel applications received on or after 1 September 2024 and would affect new entrants to schools (Reception and Year 7) with effect from September 2025.

Pupils in the current admissions round 2024/2025 and those who apply for a school place prior to September 2024 would not be impacted.

Transport eligibility awarded prior to September 2024 would be honoured (effectively protected from subsequent policy changes) under the current policy, unless there was a change of circumstance for a pupil which required a reassessment of eligibility. The department for education guidance states:

Wherever possible, local authorities should phase in changes so that children who begin attending a school under one set of travel arrangements continue to benefit from those arrangements until they leave that school.

Part 5 - information about the equalities impact assessment

An equalities impact assessment was included in the report dated 23 January 2024 that secured approval for this consultation. This document will be updated in light of comments received through the consultation process and considered further by councillors before a decision is made.

Part 6 – consultees and timescale

This is an open consultation, but we will ensure that the following groups are contacted directly:

  • young people (contacted through schools)
  • parents and carers
  • schools, including governors and staff
  • other neighbouring local authorities
  • local members of parliament
  • North Yorkshire councillors
  • parish councils

This consultation opened on 19 February and will close on 26 April 2024.

All responses received by the closing date will be anonymised and included in a report to the council's executive for consideration at their meeting in June 2024.

The executive will review the consultation feedback and decide on their recommendations for the council's new home to school travel policy, which would move forward for determination at the council meeting in July 2024.

Please give your feedback on these proposals by 26 April 2024 by filling in our questionnaire online using this.

Home to school travel survey

If you need to fill out a paper copy of the questionnaire, please call the customer service centre on 03001 312 131

Venues for face to face events

 Dates Meeting  Location
6 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm Harrogate Civic Centre, Council Chamber, St Luke’s Mount, Harrogate, HG1 2AE
6 March 5:30pm until 6.30pm Nidderdale High School, Low Wath Road, Pateley Bridge, HG3 5HL
7 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm The Grand Meeting Room, County Hall, Northallerton, DL7 8AD
7 March 5:30pm until 6:30pm The Wensleydale School, Richmond Road, Leyburn, DL8 5HY
12 March 9:30am until 10:30am Sleights Village Hall, 53 Coach Road, Sleights, Whitby, YO22 5BT
12 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm Scarborough Library, Vernon Road, Town Centre, Scarborough, YO11 2NN
12 March 5:30pm until 6:30pm Falsgrave Community Resource Centre, Seamer Road, Scarborough, YO12 4DJ
13 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm Pickering Memorial Hall, Potter Hill, Pickering, YO18 8AA
13 March 5:30pm until 6:30pm Malton Community Sports Centre, Broughton Road, Malton, YO17 7BP
14 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm Richmond Town Hall, Market Place, Richmond, DL10 4QL
14 March 5:30pm until 6:30pm Thirsk School and Sixth Form, Topcliffe Road, Sowerby Thirsk, YO7 1RZ
18 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm Skipton Town Hall, High Street, Skipton, BD23 1AH
18 March 5:30pm until 6:30pm Upper Wharfedale School, Wharfeside Avenue, Threshfield, Skipton, BD23 5BS
20 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm Selby Civic Centre, Doncaster Road, Selby, YO8 9FT
20 March 5:30pm until 6:30pm Barlby High School, York Road, Barlby, YO8 5JP
21 March 1:30pm until 2:30pm Ingleborough Community Centre, Bank Top, Ingleton, LA6 3HG