Calderdale councillors heard one daily journey to and from an out-of-area school costs the authority more than £24,000 a year, and other similar journeys cost sums averaging £8,700 per pupil, per year.
Work is now going on between the council’s transport and special educational needs teams to try and lower costs where schools closer to home can meet a child’s needs, the council’s Place Scrutiny Board heard.
Pupils who are given an Education, Health and Care Plan are placed in schools by the special educational needs team in the authority’s Children and Young People’s Services directorate, councillors were told.
When a specific school is named in the plan and is not the nearest school that can meet a child’s needs, the council still has a legal duty to provide transport – unless the special educational needs team consult with the nearest school and confirm it can meet a child’s needs and this is entered onto the plan.
Councillors heard the special educational needs team is mindful of pressures on the council’s transport budget when considering placing a child in a school.
Most eligible students who attend mainstream schools are issued with a bus pass costing around £318 per academic year and other options include parental payments (45p per mile), plus minibuses and taxis.
The minibus service costs around £6,500 per pupil, whereas a taxi and passenger attendant is the most costly form of transport offered and averages £8,700 per pupil, per year, the board heard.
Transport manager Phil Taylor told councillors demand for the services, particularly with SEND pupils, had increased greatly between 2014 and 2022, hence pressures on the budget.
The council’s Transport Operations Team carries out the council’s statutory duty to provide free home to school transport to eligible pupils as well as supporting the council’s Adult Day Services to transport their clients to day care centres.
Providing free home to school transport to allow eligible children to attend school is a legal responsibility with guidance provided by the Department for Education.
Children are usually eligible if they fall within statutory walking distance which qualifies, have special educational needs or disability (SEND) or mobility problems, have an unsafe walking route, or have extended rights, for example low income families.
The team assesses all applications and pupils are assigned with appropriate transport assistance which is the most economical option that is suitable for the child.
These range from places on a dedicated bus service to a taxi, with or without an accompanying passenger or attendant, said Mr Taylor.
Between 2014 and 2021-22, eligible numbers have grown with the number of drivers and passenger attendants required increasing from 103 to 140 in that time, he said.
Of 66 schools the council transports children to, 35 are outside the borough, said Mr Taylor.
Other methods were being undertaken or investigated to keep costs lower, but ultimately as this was a statutory, needs-led service, it was a “considerable challenge”, councillors heard.
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