On 19th June, Oxfordshire County Council will decide whether to end free travel for most Post-16 Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) students, as proposed in its Home to School Travel Consultation. If passed, the County’s proposals will make consistent school attendance for SEND young people more difficult and reduce their independence.
In BBC coverage of the story, I explained that without the post-16 free home to school transport I would not have been able to complete my A-levels and come to the University of Oxford. My local authority funded this transport through my Statement of Special Educational Needs – something my family could not afford. Like many SEND young people in Oxfordshire, I lived in a rural community and my physical disability made walking excruciating. Daily taxi journeys enabled my attendance and participation in lessons.
My heart sank, therefore, when I was contacted by governors at an Oxford special school to alert me to the County’s ‘devastating’ proposals. These plans are causing huge anxiety for SEND students and their parents and have led to a public backlash. The proposals contradict principles embedded in national policies on post-16 and SEND education. The Education and Skills Act 2008 now requires all young people in England to continue in learning until their 18th birthday. Thus, post-16 education for SEND young people is compulsory for this period and is essential in enabling a smooth transition into adulthood and the social inclusion of this group. Further, the Children and Families Act of 2014 introduced Education, Health and Care Plans, replacing Statements of Special Educational Need, and places a duty on local authorities to encourage, enable and assist the participation of SEND young people aged 0-25 years in education and training.
Oxfordshire already faces huge challenges in SEND provision. Ofsted/Care Quality Commission (CQC), in their Joint Local Areas SEND Inspection, recently raised concerns about the high proportion of Oxfordshire SEND pupils with poor attendance and high levels of permanent exclusion in this group, particularly in secondary schools. In fact, Ofsted/CQC singled out the current arrangements for SEND student transport as a ‘strength’. It is, therefore, extraordinary that the County is proposing something which will exacerbate de facto exclusion of SEND young people from educational, skills and training opportunities and undermines the County’s positive work in responding to the inspection.
Post-16 education for SEND young people has an important role in supporting their social care needs and reducing pressure on the Adult Social Care system in Oxfordshire. The County’s proposals will make consistent school attendance for SEND young people more difficult and reduce their independence. The shift in funding away from free post-16 SEND transport could lead to an expensive impact on Adult Social Care budgets too. It is, therefore, a real pity that no Equality Impact Assessment or alternative budget proposals have been published to accompany this draft policy.