Home to school travel consultation - frequently asked questions

Questions around the consultation process

Why is the council consulting on changes to the home to school transport policy?

The DfE has updated the statutory guidance for travel to school for children of compulsory school age and the current North Yorkshire school transport policy requires an update to ensure compliance with this latest guidance. The policy review provides opportunity to consider the current version and also to propose changes to wording and language to ensure that the policy remains clear and easy to understand.

What is the consultation period?

The consultation will run from 19 February 2024 to 26 April 2024.

How can I find out more about the consultation and how can I respond?

There will be public events at a number of venues across North Yorkshire during the consultation period which you can attend. Please refer to the home to school consultation page for more information.

You will be able to provide feedback via an online questionnaire.

The deadline to respond is Friday 12 April 2024.

A paper format of the document will be available on request, please contact the customer service centre on 03001 312 131.

Who will be consulted?

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
  • town and parish councils

When would the proposed new policy come into effect?

From 1 September 2024 and it would apply to:

  • children who apply for a school place from 1 September 2024 onwards who would have their transport eligibility assessed under the new policy
  • children attending school who are currently eligible for home to school transport and who have a change of circumstances (for example, of address or school) after 1 September 2024 which then requires a reassessment of their transport eligibility.
  • children who will be starting a new school in September 2025 following the normal admissions round (for Reception intake, infant to junior transfer and starting in Year 7)

Would existing pupils who access free transport be affected?

No. Children who have transport eligibility now under the existing North Yorkshire Council policy would not be affected until they next move school, or unless they had some other change in their circumstances such as a house move.

The same applies for children about to start a new school in September 2024, they would have travel eligibility assessed under the current North Yorkshire Council policy.

What’s the position for families who currently receive free transport and have younger siblings?

Any child who starts a new school from September 2025 would be assessed for travel eligibility under the new policy. If the proposed eligibility changes are adopted then it is possible, depending on circumstances, that siblings attending the same school may in future have different eligibility.

Why is the consultation period being extended?

Some schools have challenged us regarding the forecasting figures and the impact upon them, this led us to revisit the data used for the forecasting and revised figures being produced. The council has provided figures to affected schools and offered a further consultation session on 12 April 2024. As a result the consultation period has been extended to 26 April 2024.

Questions around the consultation proposals on discretionary elements

Why are some policy elements described as ‘discretionary’?

Discretionary elements are those which the council can choose to include in its home to school travel policy but they are above and beyond the requirements of the department for education statutory guidance as seen on the travel to school for children of compulsory school age page on the Gov website.

Why are the council reviewing the discretionary policy elements?

The council is seeing a significant increase in expenditure related to school travel broadly driven by an increase in the number of eligible children and secondly due to operational costs to maintain the required network of school transport. In that context it is considered appropriate to review the discretionary elements.

Are the council proposing to remove all discretionary elements?

No. The consultation document sets out that the Council intends to keep the existing discretionary provisions which extend the eligibility period for children in both the Reception year and Year 3.

The council is consulting on removing the discretionary elements that relate to:

  • 50/50 second address – there are no children currently eligible under this provision
  • primary phase on low-income denomination grounds – there are currently less than ten children that are eligible under this provision
  • transport support for 2 days SEND transitions - there are no children currently eligible under this provision

The council is consulting on changing the discretionary element of the main eligibility criterion which covers eligibility to the ‘catchment’ school’.

Which discretionary element currently applies to the most children?

This is the main eligibility criterion which covers eligibility to the ‘catchment school’. The following section deals with specific questions around that proposal.

Questions concerning the main eligibility criterion

What is the main eligibility criterion under the council’s current policy?

Travel assistance is awarded to the nearest school or to the catchment school for a home address if that is over the statutory walking distance.

How is that different to the statutory guidance?

The statutory duty on the council is as follows:

Councils must make free-of-charge travel arrangements to facilitate the attendance at school of eligible children resident in their area.

A child is eligible if they are of compulsory school age, attend their nearest suitable school and:

  • live more than the statutory walking distance from that school
  • could not reasonably be expected to walk to that school because of their special educational need, disability or mobility problem, even if they were accompanied by their parent
  • would not be able to walk to that school in reasonable safety, even if they accompanied by their parent

The inclusion of free travel eligibility to the catchment school in the council’s current policy is therefore above and beyond the statutory requirement.

Is the catchment school always the nearest school?

No. In some instances, the catchment school is not the nearest school to the home address.

Providing travel assistance to a catchment school that is not the nearest school is above and beyond the council’s statutory duty.

What is the Council’s proposal for changing the main eligibility criterion?

The council is proposing to change the criterion to match the department for education statutory requirement.

If the proposal were adopted then eligibility would apply to the nearest suitable school only, providing that school would be able to admit the child. Travel eligibility on grounds of attending a catchment school would no longer apply.

Why is the Council proposing to change the main eligibility criterion?

The council is facing significant financial challenges and is one of the highest spending councils in the country on home to school transport. Annual expenditure has doubled from c.£20m in 2015-16 to c.£42m in 23-24.  This consultation therefore looks at what changes could possibly be implemented in the new policy that would have the potential to reduce expenditure.

The proposed change to the main eligibility criterion would mean that, over time, there would be a reduction in the number of routes/services that the council would have to maintain and a reduction, subject to the future pattern of school preferences, in the number of children that would be eligible for free transport.

How does the proposal compare to the policies of other councils?

A number of councils around the country only have eligibility based on nearest suitable school to match the department for education statutory requirement.

North Yorkshire is bordered by 12 other council areas. Only three neighbouring councils provide eligibility above and beyond the department for education statutory requirement by including eligibility on the grounds of ‘catchment’ school.

What does the statutory guidance say about walking distances?

The statutory walking distances are used to determine whether a child is eligible for free travel to school. They are the distance beyond which a child who is attending their nearest suitable school is eligible for free travel arranged by their local authority. Where a child lives within the statutory walking distance (and is not eligible for free travel on any of the other grounds set out in the guidance) the parent is responsible for arranging their child’s travel to school. There is no expectation that the child will walk. It is for the parent to determine what arrangements would be suitable for their child.

A child under the age of 8 is eligible for free travel to their nearest suitable school if it is more than 2 miles from their home.

A child aged 8 years or over is eligible for free travel to their nearest suitable school if it is more than 3 miles from their home.

What does the statutory guidance say about suitable school?

A suitable school for school travel purposes is a qualifying school that is suitable for the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. It should also be suitable for the child’s sex, for example a girls’ school could not be considered the nearest suitable school for a boy.

‘Suitable school’ does not mean the most suitable school for a child. Schools are able to meet a wide range of needs. The nearest secondary school to the home of a child of secondary school age, for example, will almost always be their nearest suitable school (provided it would be able to admit them).

Qualifying schools are:

  • community schools, foundation schools, voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools
  • academies (including those which are free schools, university technical colleges, studio schools and special schools)
  • alternative provision academies
  • community or foundation special schools
  • non-maintained special schools
  • pupil referral units
  • maintained nursery schools (where attended by a child of compulsory school age)
  • city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts

Can a faith school be the nearest suitable school?

Yes. Faith schools can be considered as a qualifying school. These schools admit pupils of faith and non-faith. It will be for the council to determine if a place could have been secured at that school when transport assessments were undertaken.

What’s the position for children attending a faith school where it is not the nearest school?

Some secondary age children will still be eligible for travel assistance under the extended rights (free school meal/low income) section of the policy, which is in line with statutory guidance.

Can a school outside of North Yorkshire be the nearest suitable school?

Yes, the statutory guidance states that a qualifying school can be in a neighbouring council’s area. The boundaries for councils are not part of the eligibility criteria. This means that some children will be eligible for travel assistance to a school outside of North Yorkshire if it is their nearest suitable school.

The council already provides free travel to a number of schools outside of North Yorkshire under the statutory requirement, and eligibility for this would continue under any new policy.

What is the position for selective (Grammar) schools?

Free travel would only be provided to a selective school in Ripon or Skipton if it were the nearest suitable school with places available.

If a child either does not take, or does not pass, the school’s selection test then the council would not take that selective school into account when deciding on the nearest suitable school.

When is transport eligibility assessed?

In the majority of cases transport will be assessed during the normal admission round, for primary and secondary school places. In other words, it will be after the offer of a place for a primary child to begin in reception, transfer from infants to junior school or transfer to secondary school.

In a minority of cases, eligibility for transport will be assessed outside the normal admissions round. For example, it will need to be assessed when a family moves into area, or a child changes school (for example, as a result of a house move)

Similarly in the majority of cases children with special educational needs, medical or mobility needs, will also be assessed for transport during the admissions round. However, applications are also received throughout the year, for example when a child's needs and requirements change eg at an education health care plan annual review.

For travel eligibility purposes how does the council decide if a place either is or would have been available, at the nearest suitable school?

The travel eligibility assessment will be based on the ability to secure a place at the nearest school at the time of the relevant admissions round.

If the nearest school is undersubscribed with places available, then it will be the nearest suitable school for travel purposes, and free travel would not be provided to an alternative school that is further away.

If the nearest school is fully subscribed without places available, then the council will need to assess if the child could have secured a place had one been applied for.

School admission authorities must provide ranked lists of all applicants to the council. If parents do not list the nearest school or list it as a second or lower preference, the council can assess whether a child would have been offered a place at that school. This will be done by comparing the child with the last child to be offered a place at the school and determining which of them would have higher priority. This will often be a straightforward matter of determining which child lives closest to the school.

The nearest suitable school would always be the nearest school with places available. So, if the child could not secure a place at the nearest school, then the transport eligibility assessment would be based on the next nearest school, and so on.

What about the potential environmental impact of the proposal?

The only aspect of the pattern of travel to schools that the council has direct influence over is the eligibility policy and the transport network that is put in place to support the council’s responsibilities under that policy.

The simplification of the eligibility criterion in the policy would mean that over time there would be a reduction in the number of routes/services that the council would have to maintain. In addition, the services in operation would in future be covering shorter distances to the nearest school. Therefore, in future the council would be operating a more efficient transport network with less environmental impact than is currently the case.

The use by parents of their own cars to transport children to school is a significant factor in North Yorkshire as it is nationally. How the proposed policy change may affect the future choices around school preferences and travel methods is a matter for parents.

Questions about the changes in the policy relating to pupils with special educational needs, medical, mobility and disability.

What are the proposals in relation to SEND, mobility and medical needs?

The North Yorkshire home to school travel policy requires change to bring it in line with the latest national guidance.

One of the key areas in the draft policy relates to 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 (EHC 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

It is proposed that the council will assess travel requirements on the grounds of special educational needs, disability and/or mobility on a case-by-case basis for eligible children. 

My child has an education health and care plan. Are they automatically eligible for travel assistance?

No. Eligibility is based upon a child attending their nearest suitable school. This will be named in their education health and care plan and will be the qualifying school used to assess eligibility.

If parents choose a school further away than the nearest suitable school, for example when more than one school is named in the education health and care plan, a child will only be eligible for travel assistance to the nearest named school.

My child has medical needs but is not attending their nearest or catchment school, so was not eligible for transport. Under the proposed policy can we access free transport by requesting an individual assessment?

No. The transport eligibility criteria of attending their nearest suitable school still applies. The individual assessment is to ensure that the assistance the council provides to eligible children is sufficient to meet their needs.

Does the council take into account the individual needs of children?

Yes. The proposed policy has been updated and more emphasis placed on reflecting the requirements of assessing the needs of children with SEND, medical or mobility needs.

My child has SEN but does not have an EHCP and I think they are eligible for transport assistance. Can I request an individual assessment of their transport requirements?

Yes. Once your child has been allocated a school place, and received confirmation of eligibility for travel assistance, you will be able to request an individual assessment of their SEN, medical and/or mobility needs.

General questions about the proposals or transport arrangements

How is the route from home to school measured?

The route the council measures is the shortest route along which a child, accompanied as necessary, may walk in reasonable safety.

The route is measured using a geographical information system that is used consistently for all admissions and transport assessment purposes. The routes include footpaths, bridleways and public rights of way as identified on the council’s system, to the nearest school entrance.

This is not necessarily the shortest distance by road.

Do the proposals for a new transport policy affect school admissions criteria?

No. The council is responsible for the admission arrangements for community and voluntary controlled schools in North Yorkshire and is not proposing any change to the oversubscription criteria for those schools.

Voluntary aided and academy schools are their own admission authority and responsible for their own admission arrangements.

How will parents know to which school they would get free transport?

The council recognises that should the proposal for ‘nearest suitable school’ be adopted then it will place greater emphasis on the need for parents to have clear information at the time of applying for a school place. An online tool to assist parents is being developed.

Does this consultation affect Post 16 Travel arrangements?

No. These proposals only apply to travel for compulsory age pupils (5-16) from Reception to Year 11.

The council publish a post 16 policy statement annually with any assistance offer for post 16. This must be published on our website before 31st May each year.

Are school standards a factor in deciding transport eligibility?

No. There is no requirement within legislation to account for the Ofsted grading of a school when looking at suitable schools.

Are travel arrangements contracted?

Transport is delivered through a variety of options. This includes the purchase of public service passes and parental travel allowance paid to the parent directly. However, the majority of services are procured to either the council fleet services or private taxis and coach operators.

What if parents/carers are unhappy with the decision on their transport application?

Parents have the right to appeal a decision not to provide transport to their child, even where the policy is clear on the eligibility criteria. The statutory guidance recommends that a two-stage appeals process is open to parents /carers, and this has already been adopted by the council.