Local authorities are required to arrange free, suitable, home to school transport for children of compulsory school age who are ‘eligible’, to their nearest suitable qualifying school.
For children of compulsory school age (from age 5 to the end of year 11), children who live outside of statutory walking distance (2 miles for those under 8 and 3 miles for those over 8) are entitled to free transport. Additionally, the law sets out that if a child lives within statutory walking distance they will still be entitled if they are from a low income family, their route to school is unsafe or they have special educational needs, a disability or mobility problems which mean that they cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school. There is no requirement for the child to have an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) in order to be entitled to transport on the grounds of SEN or disability.
Eligible children fall within four categories, set out in Schedule 35 EA 1996:
- Children with SEN, a disability or mobility difficulty
- Children whose route to school is unsafe
- Children who live beyond the statutory walking distance
- Children from low income families
Compulsory school age begins with the start of term following a child’s fifth birthday and ends on the last Friday in June in the academic year in which s/he turns 16.
A qualifying school is a:
- maintained (publicly funded) school or nursery
- non-maintained special school
- pupil referral unit
- city technology college, or
- an Academy
For a child with an EHC plan, an independent school can also be a qualifying school if this is the only school or the nearest school named in Section I of the EHC plan.
Children who receive education somewhere other than at school (for example, at an alternative provision for children who are excluded or have medical needs which mean they cannot attend school) can also qualify as eligible children.
The key area where dispute often arises is about the ‘nearest suitable school’. Generally, children are entitled to transport to their nearest suitable school. Any nearer schools which are unable to meet your child’s needs, or do not have a place available for your child, do not count as a nearer suitable school.