New report analyses the challenges county authorities face in delivering school transport services

The County Councils Network has released a new report which analyses the challenges county authorities face in delivering home to school transport services, including the impact of the record fuel price increases

With fuel prices hitting record highs this month, the CCN is warning that this is having a significant impact on school transport services, with councils facing having to pay providers significantly more.

The warning comes in Home To School Transport: The Challenge in Counties, which you can download here.

The local authorities that supplied data to this study transported 248,000 pupils for free last year, of which 51,000 were young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The report calls for short-term support for local authorities to help weather the storm of rising fuel prices, which has led to transport companies retendering for contracts up to 20% higher than last year.

Even before the fuel price increase, county authorities were facing yearly increases in costs in home to school transport services, particularly for SEND pupils.

Released ahead of the government's long-awaited SEND Review, the report urges the review to address the root causes of a rise in costs and demand in SEND services, including home to school transport. The report finds an increasing number of pupils becoming eligible for Education, Health and Care Plans and an increase in young people attending special schools.

Based on data from 28 CCN member councils, the report finds:

  • County authorities spent a total of £555.6m on free school transport last year, up from £472.6m in 2016/17. This increase is largely down to a 33% rise in expenditure for pupils with SEND – up from £250m five years ago to £336m in 2021. This is the equivalent of 11% of on average council’s entire children’s services budget.
  • The number of pupils using SEND free school transport has increased from 41,185 in 2016/17 to 51,558 in 2020/21 – a rise of 10,373 pupils. Over the last three years, the average cost of individual pupils has increased by £206 to £6,099 a year – due to rising costs, such as fuel price increases.
  • Almost two-thirds of councils (60%) who responded to a separate survey for the report said that their expenditure on SEND school transport was ‘unsustainable’ and 34% said it was ‘difficult.’ Just one said it was ‘manageable’. Costs for taxis, private hire, and minibuses for these pupils had increased from £175m in 2016 to £244m in 2021.
  • Despite yearly growth in population numbers, and rising costs, councils’ expenditure on mainstream home to school transport has remained the same throughout the period – £212m in 2016 to £208m in 2021.
  • This is because councils have had little choice but to reduce eligibility for free school transport for mainstream home to transport due to facing significant financial pressures over the period, including in SEND school transport. There were almost 20,000 fewer mainstream pupils using free transport to their school in 2021 compared to 2016/17.

The video below provides an overview of the report:


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