This evening, on 23 April 2015, our petition was presented to the Mayor of Sefton at a full Council meeting. In response, Leader of the Council Peter Dowd gave an assurance, on the record, that there will be no cuts to post-16 transport to any special schools or colleges in Sefton. So, on St George’s Day, the dragon of cuts to transport to specialist provision has been slain, and the worry.caused by the threat of removal of this vital service laid to rest.
Here is the text of the speech which was read out to the Council in support of our petition:
Mr Mayor and Members of the Council
This petition was started on 4 March in response to a public consultation exercise initiated by Sefton Council on post-16 school and college transport for young people with Special Educational Needs. By the close of the public consultation period on the 30 March, in the space of less than four weeks, 5,338 people had signed, the vast majority of whom are Sefton residents. Since then a further 245 signatures have been gathered, bringing the total to 5,583.
Before discussing the petition, I would like to say a few words about the public consultation. Last weekend, every councillor in Sefton received from our campaign group an email attached to a parody consultation questionnaire. I’d like to make it clear that this was not intended as a stunt or a practical joke but as a means of conveying a serious message. It reflects the anger and frustration felt by every parent we have spoken to who has attempted to complete the Council’s original questionnaire. It isn’t appropriate to go into detail about the shortcomings here, but suffice to say that if this consultation is typical of Sefton Council’s public consultation exercises, then there is a deeply disturbing systemic failure in the democratic process in local government in this borough.
In the questionnaire and other documentation associated with the consultation, reference was made to the possibility of “the Council ceasing directly provided home to school transport for post-16 students”. As a replacement for transport, the Council proposed a ‘Travel Training’ scheme with a tracking device to help young people with Special Educational Needs to travel to school or college independently, using public transport.
It is our view that this scheme is not suitable for the overwhelming majority of young people attending Sefton’s specialist schools and colleges. Some of these young people are wheelchair users, others, like my own son, have severe learning difficulties. Many with milder issues would still have problems negotiating public transport in the rush hour, sometimes over considerable distances, as special schools and colleges are often located a long way from home. We feel there would be very serious safety concerns if students were expected to travel independently to special schools and colleges on a daily basis. It would be “an accident waiting to happen”.
If the Council ceases to provide transport for disabled over 16s, the burden will fall on parents to escort their children to school or college. This will cause significant additional problems for families who are already under pressure, be it financial or stress or health related. Parents who do not have access to a car might well have long distances to travel each day by public transport, in some cases escorting a young person in a wheelchair. Some parents who work have told us that they would have to give up their jobs in order to take their children to school or college, which would cause their family hardship.
The bottom line is that, without transport, many disabled young people would simply not be able to get to school or college. Considering that Sefton has some outstanding special schools and colleges, it doesn’t make sense to place obstacles in the way of young people attending. And anyway, it is just plain wrong. Councils have a legal, as well as a moral obligation to ensure that young people with disabilities have the same access to opportunities as their non-disabled peers. The age of participation in education has just been raised to 18, and for the majority of pupils in specialist provision for whom apprenticeships are not an option, this means staying on at school or college. There is no doubt that removing transport would deprive some disabled young people of their education, which is a legal requirement up to the age of 18, as well as a fundamental human right.
On behalf of the 5,583 people who have signed our petition, I am calling on Sefton Council to continue providing free post-16 school and college transport for children and young people with special educational needs.