I have today submitted my response to Surrey County Council's consultation on proposed changes to SEND school travel assistance provision.
I believe it is vital that safety and access to education remain the priority when considering the provision of support for children and families. I welcome changes to simplify the travel assistance system and make it easier for parents to engage with Surrey County Council, however proposals also include changes to the potential length of journey times for primary school aged children, amendments to the appeals process and the provision of support for under 5s.
While education is not a statutory requirement for under 5s, early years engagement is incredibly important to children’s learning and development. I am concerned that the proposals outlined in this consultation would limit discretionary assistance for under 5s to reception aged children only, and that even assistance for children who are aged four and entering into the reception year at primary school would only be provided if extenuating circumstances have been demonstrated.
The SEND Review and Green Paper published by the Department for Education this week highlights the importance of early intervention and proposes changes to prioritise this. Limiting the provision of SEND transport assistance for under 5s appears contrary to these aims and could have a detrimental impact on the life chances of children in Surrey with additional needs.
It is vital that the national framework, County and health services work together to provide co-ordinated and consistent approach to support children with SEND, in order to break the vicious cycle of late intervention leading to disruption to education, low confidence and poorer outcomes and opportunities. I have therefore urged Surrey County Council to reconsider this aspect of their proposed reforms.
I have also requested, as part of this review, that they consider how the Authority can ensure that where an eligible child changes school transport provision or assistance is in place from day one; provision of a single point of contact for parents, carers or advocates to raise questions or concerns regarding SEND travel assistance; and Transport provision for children who are unable to access school due to other family circumstance, such as disability or illness of a parent or carer.
A copy of my full response is attached below.