The Department has commissioned a review of efficiency and practice in the procurement, planning and provision of school transport across England.
The Government wants local authorities to share best practice and ensure they have processes and systems in place that provide value for money and contribute to the reduction of bureaucracy.
Home to school transport policy has remained largely unchanged since the 1944 Education Act when local authorities (LAs) were placed under a duty to make transport arrangements for children whose school was beyond the statutory walking distance to ensure parents didn’t have a defence against non-attendance at school by their children.
This means that where LAs consider that home to school transport is necessary to secure a child's attendance at school, it must be provided free of charge. LAs have discretion in deciding whether transport is necessary, but they must provide free home to school transport for pupils of compulsory school age who are attending their nearest suitable school, provided that the school is beyond the statutory walking distances (2 miles for pupils below the age of eight and 3 miles for those aged eight and over) and for children unable to walk because of SEN, a disability or mobility problems or an unsafe walking route.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 extended entitlement to free school travel for pupils entitled to free school meals or whose parents are in receipt of maximum Working Tax Credit. Eligible primary school pupils aged over eight are entitled to free travel to their nearest school where this is more than two miles from their home. Eligible secondary age pupils (11-16) attending a suitable school that is between two and six miles from the child’s home, (as long as there are not more than three nearer schools) and those attending their nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion and belief, between two and fifteen miles, are also entitled to free transport.
Expenditure on home to school transport is currently running at around £1 billion per year – approximately half of which is on SEN transport and the cost of home to school transport is spiralling above the rate of inflation.
The ambition is to produce an interim report for Ministers by the end of June and a final report by the end of November 2011 that will provide Ministers with the findings and outcomes from the review and make recommendations about how these can be taken forward with LAs and other stakeholders.
During the period April 2011 – July 2011, the review will operate under the following strands:
The review should examine all aspects of statutory home to school transport. It should examine current practice in LAs role in commissioning and planning home to school transport, to identify exemplar case studies from which LAs can adopt/adapt their own practice to secure efficiencies. It should aim to identify the drivers of rising transport costs, how these are funded and suggest where value for money could be improved. In identifying existing good practice, it will engage with LAs and key stakeholders to help them reduce the overall cost and achieve value for money. It should also examine delivery models across the different types of local authorities – urban, rural and metropolitan.
Through an expert Working Group comprising education transport practitioners and stakeholders, facilitated by Department for Education policy teams, there will be collation and review of current practice of how LAs fulfil their current statutory duties and, where there is suitable evidence, discretionary provision. This will include what procurement models are followed, how financial and data monitoring systems are used in planning provision and whether evaluations are taken up locally including any feedback from parents, schools and other users.
We should determine what the drivers are for rising transport costs and whether these are similar across the country or specific to types of authorities. In terms of procurement models, this should examine to what extent cost efficient solutions like e-auctions are used when re-tendering home to school transport contracts and identify the savings made.
We should examine how the range of travel options are used, planned and commissioned, particularly for children with special educational needs where the transport costs are high. We should establish to what extent planners use route optimisation software to improve management of home to school transport within their authority and in collaborating with neighbouring authorities on cross border journeys.
In order to determine if there is capacity for LAs to reduce the overall cost of home to school transport (currently £1 billion) and achieve efficiencies we need to know what is spent, why, where and when. We would therefore need to examine the following questions.
We intend to operate the review with the following timetable:
Phase 1: Internal policy assessment (By 31 March 2011)
Collate information and pupil data on the current cost of home to school transport provision to inform the review. Advise Ministers and agree terms of reference for the efficiency and practice review.
Phase 2: Establish Review Working Group and agree working protocols and reporting arrangements with Sufficiency and Fair Access Task & Finish Group (By mid May 2011)
Establish a Review Working Group comprising LA education officers, transport planners and faith group representatives to inform the research methodology and anticipated outcomes using their knowledge/experience to offer alternative options, where relevant.
Phase 3: Agree approach and detail of evidence gathering process with Review Working Group (6 May) and submit to Task & Finish Group (late May)
Review methodology considered and signed off within Review Working Group and submitted to Task & Finish group for final approval.
Phase 4: Research period (May to Jun)
Use the Working Group, to approach LAs to establish current arrangements and practice and identify what good practice and innovation looks like across procurement, planning and commissioning.
Working Group to collate evidence and prepare examples of good practice and recommendations report.
Phase 5: Draft final report, cleared through the Task & Finish Group and present it to Ministers (By end of July)
Agree final content and presentation of ‘good practice’ guide with Ministers.
The work will report in parallel to Ministers and the Ministerial Advisory Group. (Sufficiency and Fair Access Task & Finish Group). The day to day work will be managed through a Transport Review Working group chaired by DfE (David McVean).