Councils call for emergency school transport funding

By Ellie Ames | 20 November 2023

'Spiralling’ transport costs for children with special educational needs are threatening the financial stability of England’s largest councils, according to a new report.

The County Councils Network (CCN) said spending on school transport by England’s 37 county and rural authorities will, for the first time, reach almost £1.1bn this year – before rising to £1.5bn by 2028.

The report by Isos Partnership for CCN says transport for pupils with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) is behind rising costs, with transport costs for mainstream children having remained largely stable.

It found that transport for SEND pupils will cost councils £720m this year. The total is up from £397m in 2018-19 and projected to reach £1.125bn in 2027-28.

CCN said one factor behind increasing costs is more pupils having education, health and care plans, which state whether children should attend special schools and receive transport.

The cross-party group said the number of school places has not kept pace with demand, resulting in councils transporting children long distances across counties.

It also said the use of individual taxis is now on par with the use of minibuses, due to the complexity of children’s needs as well as ‘parental expectations’.

The report calls on the Government to fund more specialist school places, consider requiring families whose income is above a certain threshold to contribute to transport costs, and ensure that SEND tribunals do not rule on cases until there is full consideration of the cost of transport.

However, CCN children’s services spokesperson Roger Gough added: ‘Reform takes time and the costs we are facing now are simply unsustainable and threaten council finances in the short term.

‘That’s why we are calling on the Government to provide an emergency injection of resources at [this] week’s Autumn Statement.’

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Finance Schools County Councils Network Autumn Statement Children Funding Transport SEND