£160m on school transport for SEND pupils

A new survey has revealed that councils across England spent more than £160 million last year on taxis and private hire vehicles to transport children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to and from schools.

The survey by the County Councils Network (CCN), seen by the Guardian, shows that total spending on transport for pupils with SEND in 2017-18 was more than £323 million across 36 county authorities in England, up from just under £250 million four years ago. Of equal concern, county councils have warned that rising demand for SEND services is ‘creating budget risks’ for local authorities. In some areas, school transport costs for children with special needs has risen by as much as 45 per cent in the last four years.

The 23 county authorities which provided details of expenditure on private hire taxis and minibuses said they spent £166 million on these vehicles last year, compared with less than £128 million four years ago.

Inadequately funded councils are calling for more money in next year’s spending review to match growing demand. Because of a lack of financial support from central government, North Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, and Buckinghamshire have all outlined cutbacks to post-16 free transport for pupils with SEND.

Carl Les, the CCN spokesman for children’s services and education, and the leader of North Yorkshire county council, said: “These services are a lifeline for our young people, particularly in rural areas, and the fact that these pupils with learning disabilities and special needs are living longer is something to be celebrated, but these services must be adequately funded. Regrettably, we are having to scale back the services we aren’t legally obliged to deliver or reroute funding from other services because the current funding for school transport is not keeping up with demand.”

The CCN recently warned that the costs of caring for adults with learning disabilities is projected to increase by almost £2 billion by 2025, putting the ‘long-term’ survival of councils at risk.